January 21st, 2016
7:30pm Person Recital Hall, UNC-CH
Guest artist Timothy Holley (North Carolina Central University) presents a recital of solo cello music. Free and open to the public.
The opening work, "Abraham's Sons: In Memoriam Trayvon Martin (2013) by James Lee III was performed most recently in November 2015 at NCCU for Ms. Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin who came to speak as a guest of the NCCU Office of Student Affairs "Rock The Mike" speaker series in November. A new companion work of Lee's, "Mother's Lament: So Many Names Unknown, So Many Lost Sons" (2015) for soprano, boychoir, men's chorus and orchestra also extends Lee’s aesthetic commentary, while further expanding the scope of suffering and mourning originally inferred by the title of the elegiac solo piece.
Tania Leon's Four Pieces for Solo Cello (1981) are hidden gems among her compositional output, much of which has been composed for the Dance Theater of Harlem. The work's opening movement is a miniature tour de force of rhythm, melody and expressive gesture. The expressive inner sanctum of the set is to be found in the second piece, a plaintive song dedicated to her father. These pieces were her first completed work following his death. The third piece (titled “Montuno”) captures the infectiousness of Afro-Cuban rhythm, all the while attempting to transfigure the cello (and cellist!!) into a "metamusical performer" through the use of traditional and nontraditional sound effects (pizzicato, glissando, tapping and knocking on the instrument, playing extreme highest pitches available, bowing between the bridge and tailpiece, stomping the floor!!) in all of maybe 40 seconds!! The final piece forms a balanced “bookend” to the first, but is more expansive in gesture--starting, obsessing and ending on the same recurring low pitch, C#2 (quite low on the piano keyboard!!).
Playing this piece dares me to refer the reader to that famous quote of the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham regarding orchestral music: "There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between”. In discussing and preparing this work I must dare to differ with Beecham and say that what happens in between the beginning and ending is VERY important"!! However, the needed sense of “deadpan acrobatics and ice-water vanity” demanded of the performer cannot be assigned an excessive degree of worry, neither in the practice room, studio, rehearsal or performances!! Just GO FOR IT!!
The remainder of the program’s first half is devoted to Trevor Weston's work Shapeshifter: The Angry Bluesman (2011)--which delves into the worlds of techno music, blues melody, its expressive "gesture", and the potential rhythmic drive which energizes all of them. One of the most fascinating aspects of the work is its "volatility of atmosphere": multiple shifts of rhythm, melody, tempo and expressive gesture dominate this work's twelve minutes’ duration. While a "spirit of the blues" is easy to catch throughout this work, the listener will not be afforded the "luxury of quoted familiarity" in it, which is so expected and even yearned for within our blues-based popular music. (There’s just too much volatility!!)
The remainder of the program, the Sonata for Cello (2012) of Adolphus Hailstork is an imposing work that opens with a gesture of "homage" to the first suite for solo cello of Johann Sebastian Bach. Following that polite "opening nod", this work seems to go places that Bach didn't have the time or cultural resources to travel 295 years ago!! The influence of the gigue from Bach pervades the entire movement, yet the presence of blues melody strangely working in tandem with the dance produces a unique musical result and aesthetic effect. The second movement is best described as "a slow tempo blues song in rondo form", but playing and hearing it can also resemble a road trip across Pennsylvania on Interstate 80!! Formal structure and travel descriptions cast aside, the digressive section melody is given an interesting directive in the score: "call and response". This directive is a reference to what is called the tradition of "lining" or "raising a hymn", which comes from the black sacred and folk music tradition. Notwithstanding its repetitive formal structure, this melody is the most transcendent facet of this movement. The final movement reprises thematic material from the previous two movements, engaging the melodies in what might sound like the dialogue, disagreement and dissolution of argument...among children!! Odd as the opening “argument” may sound, it gives way quite fittingly to music that sounds of children's play song!! In this manner, the Bachian gigue and blues dance aesthetics of the opening movement are “prayed over” in the call and response of the middle movement road trip, and then both “join hands” with the play songs of children in the final movement.
Program notes provided by Dr. Timothy Holley.
RECITAL REVIEW http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7789
PRINT Share Facebook Twitter Google+ Email
Cellist Timothy Holley Meets the Challenge and Challenges Us
By Ken Hoover.
January 21, 2016 - Chapel Hill, NC:
A good crowd was assembled in Person Hall on the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus to hear guest cellist Dr. Timothy W. Holley in recital.
Holley is a graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College and the University of Michigan. He performed with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra for twelve years and was also affiliated with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra during that time. An Associate professor, he has been an assistant and now Associate, professor of music at North Carolina Central University since 1996. He has been a member of the Mallarmé Chamber Players and has performed with the Ciompi Quartet of Duke University and the North Carolina Symphony.
His opening selection was "Abraham’s Sons: In Memoriam Trayvon Martin" composed in 2013 by African-American composer James Lee III (b. 1975). The piece opens in the lower register of the cello with what can only be described as an awful cry of pain and sadness after which the instrument explores this theme from double-stop lower register to top. After a trill and a pizzicato passage, the cello seems to cry out in protest, gaining in intensity. A shattering climax leads to calmer and quieter music as though some acceptance were at work in the process. This is music that speaks its own language. I only hope I have not read too much into it. Holley’s performance was intense, technically impressive and artistically relevant.
Next on the program was Four Pieces for Solo Cello by Tania León. Born 1943 in Havana, Cuba, she traces in her heritage the blood of Frenchmen, Spaniards, Chinese, Africans, and Cubans. She is highly regarded and has earned awards as a composer, conductor and organizer. In 2000, she was named the Tow Distinguished Professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, where she has taught since 1985.
The first of the four pieces, marked “Allegro,” opens with the bow attacking the strings, establishing a chromatic theme that dominates the movement. With impressive gymnastic demands, interspersed with lyrical asides, it moved to a comfortable ending. The second piece, “Lento Doloroso, sempre cantabile” (“to my father”) began and ended with a whistling harmonic on the cello – a reference to the love of the composer’s father in playing a flute. With skips of wide intervals, it communicated a lyrical sense of affection, playfulness and strength.
The third piece was labeled, simply, “Montuno.” The word means, literally, “Come from the mountain,” and is used in a variety of references in Cuban music. This piece was a rhythmic tour de force with foot stomping and various other percussive techniques and pizzicato playing. It was a delight – especially the playful ending. The finale of the four pieces, marked “Vivo,” was just that – full of life and energy with considerable technical challenges pushing the soloist to the limits. Holley was up to the challenge, at times seeming to almost become one with his instrument.
The final piece before intermission was Shapeshifter: The Angry Bluesman composed in 2012 byTrevor Weston, composer and chairman of the music department at Drew University. While the title of this piece could mislead one to interpret the music simplistically, it was anything but simple. Equipped with a jaunty derby, Holley launched into a distorted blues riff, a semiquaver slash with foot stomping, bridge slapping, demanding pizzicato. How could the blues get lost in such anger?
After a congenial intermission, Holley performed Adolphus Hailstork’s 2012 Sonata for Cello. Hailstork was educated at Howard University, Manhattan School of Music and Michigan State University where he earned his Ph.D. in composition. He also studied composition with such luminaries as Vittorio Giannini, David Diamond, and Nadia Boulanger. He is currently a professor of music and composer-in-residence at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The Sonata was composed for Holley.
The first movement, Allegro moderato, develops slowly out of itself, with occasional side episodes. It gradually becomes more rhythmical and ends with a gentle cadence. The Poco adagio middle movement is the longest and most developed of the three movements with some episodes that are quite lyrical allowing the cello to sing out with all its warm and enticing appeal. An episode (perhaps the trio?) sounds almost like a gigue. Then there are changes in mood, from intense extraversion to intimate and personal. The third movement Allegro is dance-like. One hears snippets of children’s songs, simple and playful, drawing us in to a place where children play together with no regard for the differences between them.
Holley is a significant musician and must be appreciated for that. Every piece on this recital program pointed to musical excellence, technical precision and personal commitment. His doctoral thesis and perhaps his life calling was/is to bring attention to the music composed by African-Americans for cello. Stereotypes provide the soil in which prejudice grows, and when they are challenged with a broader perspective of those we think are different from us, the prejudices cannot be maintained. Music speaks to us within the deep soul, and when we are willing to hear what it is saying and follow where it is pointing, we become richer in spirit and more human. Thanks to people who write and perform music that makes it so.
Performances by Holley of several of these pieces may be found on YouTube.