by Joseph Gresser
copyright the Chronicle July 23, 2008
DERBY LINE — The Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival wrapped up a weekend of performances Saturday night, July 12, with a concert at the Haskell Opera House. In addition to the superb performances of contemporary music that are the series’ hallmark, director Sara Doncaster introduced a new wrinkle to the fifteenth edition of the festival — young local musicians performing on the same bill as older, professional players.
One of the youthful performers, Owen Tatum of Derby, also had “Water,” a woodwind quartet he composed, given its world premiere by a mixed group of students and professionals.
Mr. Tatum, who will be a junior at North Country Union High School in the fall, played oboe for the performance. He was joined by Steven Tatum, his brother, who played bassoon, and two professional musicians, flutist Sarah Brady and Mark Margolies, who played clarinet.
With this addition to the festival’s mix, Ms. Doncaster is twining together two strands of her professional life. She is not only an increasingly successful composer, but is also an elementary school music teacher who works in the Newport Center, Holland and Lowell schools.
This year Ms. Doncaster gathered six young performers, all of whom are from Orleans County. Some of the group she already knew, either as their school music teacher or from giving them piano lessons.
Emily Wiggett of Barton performed in two programs on different instruments. She accompanied alto Colleen Brewer of Newport Center, who sang songs by Aaron Copeland
and Samuel Barber as part of a vocal recital on Saturday afternoon, July 12.
Ms. Wiggett also played flute in a performance of “Rigaudon,” Op.60 by Arthur Foote, that evening. She performed “Rigaudon” with two other Barton residents, Gabrielle Marcotte, who played violin, and pianist Stephanie Marcotte.
Ms. Brewer studied with Ms. Doncaster when she was in sixth grade. She graduated from North Country Union High School in June and will study music education at Plymouth State College in the fall.
All members of the trio are current or former Lake Region Union High School students. Stephanie Marcotte who, like Ms. Wiggett, studied piano with Ms. Doncaster, now studies nursing at Franciscan University, where she plays in the school orchestra.
At a reception that marked the close of the festival, Ms. Wiggett said she has been studying flute since the fourth grade, seven years. As she enters her junior year at Lake Region Ms. Wiggett is looking forward to studying music at the college level.
She does not lack immediate musical challenges, as she has been accepted as a member of the Vermont Youth Orchestra. Last year she played with the Vermont Youth Philharmonia.
Ms. Wiggett, when asked about the similarity between her background and that of Ms. Doncaster, beamed. “It’s pretty cool. She’s so smart and she knows how to get it across. I plan to get it across,” she said.
Ms. Doncaster hopes that the young players who take part in the Warebrook festival do go farther in their musical endeavors. She said she hopes that next year’s festival will include a week of workshops, that will allow students to work more closely with professionals.
In speaking of the difficulties of programming a contemporary festival Ms. Doncaster said she chose the Arthur Foote piece to fit the level of the three young players.
Of all the pieces on the festival’s concluding program, Saturday evening at the Haskell Opera House, it was the most traditional sounding. Mr. Foote composed the trio in 1921 and it has a style reminiscent of Edwardian composers such as Sir Arthur Sullivan.
In a conversation Monday, July 13, Ms. Doncaster chose to compare it with New England composers Edward MacDowell and Amy Beach. Ms. Doncaster said she likes to acknowledge them, particularly as all three are associated with Boston, the city where Ms. Doncaster received much of her training.
She said she hopes that the workshops will help prepare the young musicians to play some of the more challenging workshops. One of the sessions Ms. Doncaster plans is one on extended instrumental techniques.
Ms. Doncaster had a ready explanation for the inclusion of the oldest work on the program of contemporary music, “Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano” by Charles Ives. Noting that festival’s opening concert was held in the Irasburg Town Hall, Ms. Doncaster asked, “Who else would you perform in a beautiful turn-of-the-century hall with a slightly out-of-tune piano?”
At the Haskell Saturday night, the program began with a nod to Elliott Carter, the renowned American composer, who this year celebrates his hundredth birthday. Although Mr. Carter’s music is notoriously complex and difficult, the piece selected by Ms. Doncaster, “Pastorale,” was composed early in the composer’s career when he was still under the influence of Aaron Copland’s American style.
In the melodic lines and the harmonic structure of the piano and clarinet duet, echoes of Copland could be heard. It was a touching reminder of the beginnings of Mr. Carter’s long and adventurous artistic journey.
One of the pleasures of the Warebrook festival is a sight all too rare in most concert halls, a living composer standing to acknowledge well-deserved applause.
Both Ms. Doncaster and William Pfaff were present Saturday night to hear fine readings of their compositions. Mr. Pfaff’s was a string quartet, “In the Abode of Soundless Poetry,” composed last year.
Mr. Pfaff’s composition was a densely textured work, neither atonal nor melodic. The rhythmic complexities were such that even the excellent players of Warebrook, could not master them in the three rehearsals that preceded the performance.
Fortunately conductor Paul Brust was on hand to direct entrances, leaving the musicians to concentrate on the ensemble blend. Mr. Pfaff’s work was a perfect example of the underlying principal of Ms. Doncaster’s curatorial vision — a prejudice in favor of beauty.
Ms. Doncaster’s offering, which concluded the festival, was a setting of six poems by James Joyce entitled “At That Hour.” Tenor Jon Garrison was accompanied by an ensemble that included Ms. Brady and Mr. Margolies, along with Benda van der Merwe on violin, Darry Dolezal on cello, Mika Tanaka on piano and Aaron Trant on percussion. Mr. Brust conducted.
This ensemble was skillfully deployed by Ms. Doncaster, who varied the instrumental texture to match each poem’s text. The active verbs, gnash, lash, pluck and devour, that form the frame of “A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight,” were matched by Mr. Trant, who moved from the vibraphone to a modified drum kit for the song.
In “Sleep Now, O Sleep Now,” Ms. Brady bent notes on her flute in a manner that reminded one of cattle lowing. The final song in the set, “At That Hour,” ended with a repeated six-note phrase played on the vibraphone. The time between the fifth and sixth note lengthened with each repetition, with the final phrase left suspended, and incomplete.
Several of the players remarked after the concert that the piece marked a major step for Ms. Doncaster, a judgment which the composer said she shared.
This year’s festival was the first since 2005, but lovers of well-played contemporary music need not fear. When she was asked if there will be another Warebrook festival next year, Ms. Doncaster immediately exclaimed, “Yes!”
contact Joseph Gresser at firstname.lastname@example.org