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Mostly Modern Projects, 10/27/20

Stephanie and I saw a concert by Mostly Modern Projects on 10/23/20. Yes, a concert in a concert hall, live, in person, with other people in the audience and the performers right there in the room! UNPRECEDENTED!

Stephanie heard about it because she had been to other events at the venue, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on West 37th St. The email said the concert would have an extremely limited audience, so Stephanie and I both RSVPd immediately and got seats. It turns out we were part of an audience of 16! That’s what I call intimate. Temperature checks at the door, masks for everyone, social distancing throughout.

The artistic director said it felt like a “speakeasy situation,” where you’re not REALLY allowed to do the thing you were doing, but you do it in a responsible and thoughtful way. Hm, really? What we saw was a recording session for three pieces by Robert Paterson and David Cote. *In Real Life* is a piece for soprano and chamber ensemble, written in 2017. *In Real Life II* is a new piece for baritone and the same ensemble, this was the world premiere. And they filled out the program with a new piece for the two singers, “Extraordinary.”

Let me credit the whole gang:

Robert Paterson, composer

David Cote, lyricist and librettist

Steven Osgood, conductor

Marnie Breckinridge, soprano

Jorell Williams, baritone

John Romeri, flute

Keve Wilson, oboe

Nuno Antunes, clarinet

Blair McMillan, piano

Matt Ward, percussion

Robin Braun, violin

Philip Payton, viola

Peter Sachon, cello

The two *In Real Life* pieces were about five people dealing with online dating. The first song set the tone for the evening. The harmonies were simple, the rhythm was slack, there was no counterpoint to speak of. The text setting was good but the text itself was uninspired and worthy of the occasional eyeroll. One couplet in the first song: “I don’t expect a miracle / I know the world is spherical.”

The second song was the best piece on the concert, very satisfying. It was about a middle-aged woman entering the dating world. It felt like both the lyricist and the composer were making something special, the song seemed to be going somewhere. Here's soprano Marnie Breckinridge and a different set of players in the American Modern Ensemble in a performance from 2017:


The third song was about a Russian woman, with a thick Russian accents, with a strong Russian flavor in the music. I couldn’t decide if this was a) a microagression, b) simply in poor taste, or c) just plain bad.

The fourth song made me think of a Made for Lifetime TV movie, both in terms of the music and the situation. And I wrote nothing about the fifth song, I think I was just happy it was the last one.

Marnie Breckinridge has a lovely voice, sang with conviction, and performed the songs like they were better than they were. I suppose it’s possible she actually DID like them, right?

The second *In Real Life* set was about 12% more successful. The first song had a funky beat but nothing built around it. Once again the second song was the high point of the set - - it was about a young man talking about being deployed in Afghanistan, coming back home, and starting to date. It didn’t have more harmonic depth, but the music had intention, probably because the composer felt that he was expressing something.

Baritone Jorell Williams really delivered the third song. I wish he’d had something better to work with. The fourth song had moments of rhythmic vitality but the same dull chord progressions over and over again. It had a surprising ending, which scored a few points.

The fifth song - - maybe it’s because it was the tenth song I heard, but I was really tired of the whole enterprise and glad it was almost over. Those repeated chord progressions really got on my nerves, but then to be fair, I have the same problem with Hugo Wolf, who’s regarded as one of the masters of the German art song. So what do I know?

The final song was charming, it was a treat to hear the singers singing together and interacting with each other. The dramatic situation was two people who have met online meeting each other for the first time in person, during the pandemic. The woman used a tape measure to map out how far away they should stand from each other. A sign of the times.

Stephanie had a lot to say about the conductor, she felt he didn’t do enough to keep the instruments from covering the singers. I felt the blame should fall nearly as much with the composer, since the scoring was too heavy, but with no purpose. Really, if you’re writing a piece with eight parts, why not have a little moment where each of them has a chance to shine? There was never a moment like that in the piece, which was a major missed opportunity.

But even though the concert itself was a disappointment, I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to be at a concert. Who knows when I’ll get to do it again.



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