The Radical Sound II: Contemporary classical composers & artists, UMD

New Maryland consortium of composers like Geoff Sheil and Evan Meier and performers like Hunter Thomas strikes a vibrant note. Photo: Pianist Thomas Hunter/Flickr

COLLEGE PARK, Md., September 12, 2013 – The new musical collective otherwise known as The Radical Sound II returned home to the University of Maryland on Saturday night, bringing their second varied and dynamic program to the UMD Memorial Chapel.

Formed by composers Geoff Sheil and Evan Meier along with pianist Thomas Hunter, the consortium is dedicated to the promotion of music of the 20th and 21st centuries, including new commissions and works by local composers.

Saturday night’s concert began with the world premiere of Irish born Geoff Sheil’s “Spark,” an energetic work for cello, percussion, and piano. The piece entwined neo-tonality with tasteful jazz harmonies, spikier modernistic touches, and a filmscape scope, all chasing one another frantically in the virtual style of a perpetual motion machine. Sheil’s new work veered from its aggressive opening bars into a surprisingly sweet and melodic interlude, eventually returning to derivations of his opening material.

Composer Geoff Sheil. (Courtesy of the composer)

“Spark” proved to be a highly engaging work by a very promising composer. It was unfortunate, however, that the spacious acoustics of the Memorial Chapel obscured some of the composer’s finer details.

Faring bettter in the Chapel’s boomier space was another world premiere compostion, Evan Meier’s “The Heretic’s Tragedy.”

A setting of the eponymous Robert Browning poem, it tells the story of the burning of Jacques du Bourg-Molay—the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar—in early 14th century Paris, as related through the historical distortions handed down through generations of oral history.

Meier’s setting of Browning’s poem is scored for a large chamber ensemble with mixed voices, with the composer incorporating a range of musical influences from 14th century composers to his own modern style.

Like Geoff Sheil, Meier is a young composer of great promise as is amply demonstrated in this composition. “The Heretic’s Tragedy” musically embodies the harrowing complexity of the age-old clash of religion and politics through its haunting evocation of ancient songs, medieval-sounding cadences frustrated at their conclusion with unexpected resolutions, and striking effects emerging from the small vocal group. While the piece navigated a wide range of musical influences, it ingeniously managed to do so in a unifying and satisfying way. The result is a learned work that reveals its inner truths by means of its sensitive, sophisticated musical expression.

Composer Evan Meier. (Courtesy of the composer)

The second half of the program began with “Sonata for Piano” by Gideon Klein. Composed in 1943, this harrowing cry from a time of war is lent further poignancy by the knowledge that its Jewish composer would die in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. Pianist Thomas Hunter appeared to revel in the emotional complexity of the work, riveting the attention of the audience with his confident rendition.

The evening concluded with the “Quartet No. 2 for piano and string quartet” by Peter Schickele. Composed for the hundredth anniversary of Brahms’s death, the composer—popularly known by his comic alter-ego, PDQ-Bach—gives us a work of great lyrical scope and emotional power.

Running the gamut from broad and melancholic Brahmsian gestures to an awkward 5/4 waltz to a healthy dose of Americana, Schickele’s “Quartet” achieves a satisfying synthesis of musical styles. Sawing and fiddling their way confidently through the final movement’s infectious square-dance inspired music, the quintet earned a well deserved enthusiastic yelp from the crowd as they concluded the finale.

The Radical Sound II managed to deliver a varied and interesting program of just the right length, and the obvious personal investment and enthusiasm of these young musicians made for a joyous evening of contemporary music. The audience – braving an always rowdy and unpredictable campus postgame football crowd – was amply rewarded for battling its way through the chaos.

Here’s hoping for more from The Radical Sound in semesters and seasons to come.

Rating: *** (Three out of four stars)

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Mark Nowakowski


Dr. Mark Nowakowski is a composer whose works have been performed across the United States and Europe. He holds five degrees in various music concentrations, while currently
also serving as the Music Curator and Interim Director for the Foundation for Sacred Arts.

Contact Mark Nowakowski


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