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SOLI Chamber Enemble

An example of recycling at its best

March 11, 2010

It is virtuous for musical organizations to commission new works and perform them for the first time, but a special place of honor is reserved for groups that follow first performances with seconds and thirds and fourths, over the course of many years.

Assuming, of course, that the work in question is worthy of a long-term relationship. That is clearly the case with San Antonio composer Timothy Kramer’s “Cycles and Myths” for clarinet, violin, cello and piano.  the first item on the SOLI Chamber Ensemble’s concert March 9 in Trinity University’s Ruth Taylor Recital Hall.

The then-newborn SOLI Chamber Ensemble gave the premiere in 1996, played it again the following year and revisited it in 2007. It returned once again on March 7 as the first item on a SOLI concert in Trinity’s Ruth Taylor Recital Hall.

Overexposure? Hardly. “Cycles and Myths” grows stronger with each hearing.

It opens with a chirrupy, propulsive, asymmetrical motive that is full of possibilities for development, variation, splitting apart and recombining. The title refers to recurrences of that opening idea (the “cycles”) and development sections that explore some aspect of it (the “myths”). Thus the piece is unified and economical, but hugely inventive; fully modern in its sound world, but classical in disposition. It deserves a place in the standard repertoire, and apparently is getting one: Asked about performances beyond SOLI’s, Kramer said that “Cycles and Myths” is one of his most frequently and widely performed works.

Pianist Carolyn True, clarinetist Stephanie Key, violinist Ertan Torgul and cellist David Mollenauer gave a spirited, spit-shined performance. 

Also from Kramer came a playful 2008 piece for solo clarinet, “Key Fragments,” named for its performer, Stephanie Key. Though formally more freewheeling than “Cycles and Myths,” “Key Fragments” also is unified by a recurring idea: In a somewhat Sisyphean way, the line repeatedly reaches upward and falls back. A long, determined climb culminates in a spasm of leaps and non-traditional tonal techniques.

eceiving its North American premiere was a Divertimento composed last year for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by young Colombian composer Diego Vega.
Being unfamiliar with Vega’s music, I explored some of it on his web site ( and was impressed by most of what I heard -- a complex, coloristic mainstream modernism tempered by neoclassical or neoromantic tendencies. His Divertimento, however, draws on Latin folk idioms and moves into neoromantic territory, though with textural quirks that keep the music interesting.

The concert also included a world premiere by one of Kramer’s students, 19-year-old Isaiah Putnam. His “Systemic Secrets and Animal Space Stations” for piano trio is a sprawling, brawling piece with features that show great promise -- the long-lined, prayerful violin melody that  opens the work and to some degree unifies it, episodes of wild volatility, some interesting cross-tempos. But at first hearing, the piece did not hang together well and seemed overstuffed with ideas.
Mike Greenberg