September 2128, 2000
All About Andy
Andy Warhol Composition Contest Concert. Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman, conductor. September 13, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Andy Warhol produced art that echoed musical structure in powerful ways. His chiseled graphic techniques, use of repetitive images and unmasked textures mimic traditional compositional patterns in music. For this concert of five new works, inspired by Warhol works at the current PAFA exhibit, nearly every composition did respond to these purely technical dimensions. But the best work also evoked the ephemeral, even disturbing aspects of Warhol: Was he a genius, a charlatan, a little of both? What are the unique qualities that often make his work powerful and silly at once?
The composer who captured this elusive magic best, as if wrestling a greased eel into his boiling pot of notes, was Ron Herrema, who contributed a wonderfully clever trio for flute, clarinet and violin based on Warhols Sixteen Jackies. A baroque intricacy of patterns reflected the symmetry of Sixteen Jackies, and also conveyed a sly sense of whimsy, expressed in odd harmonic turns and unexpected manipulations of line. Herrema, like Warhol, is nudging his listeners in the ribs, with a wink. "tw!Tch," a trio for flute, violin and acoustic bass by Nicholas Frances Chase, also an aural take on Sixteen Jackies, connects to the satiric Warhol more broadly than Herrema, but with equal skill, scattering bright shards of sound across a taut structure, and using spoken and sung music as humorous accents.
First prize in the concert went to "Cool RED Cool," by Geoffrey Gordon. This music attempts a different homage to Warhol. Instead of connecting to the aesthetic spirit of Warhol, Gordon responds to the more superficial mixing of pop and high art that was so important in the iconization of Warhol. Gordon begins with an artful, polytonal soundscape that slowly morphs into a full-blown be-bop jam session. The middle ground, where the two styles blend, is the most compelling part of the piece. The final blast was great fun, but the improvisational virtuosity of the musicians overwhelmed the composition by this point.
Robert McCauleys "SilkScream" draws from the darker impulses of Warhol. It is a dense, fascinating work that is full of surprises, in the manner of a disturbing dream. Joyce Solomon Moorman contributed a trio for tenor sax, trumpet and drum set that was a literal interpretation of Race Riot, 1964, with the sax representing the crowd, the trumpet the police, and the drums the base violence. Somehow, this riot sounded tepid. Warhols image conjures the shame and anger of this event with immensely greater power.