Alias’s Rhythms, Rivers and Roads

By: Joseph E. Morgan

On July 12, the Alias Chamber Ensemble closed their 2017-18 season with a concert at Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music. The concert featured world premieres of works by Tennessee composer/performers Christopher Farrell (viola), Tracy Silverman (electric violin), and Matt Walker (cello) and focused on different aspects of Tennessee’s rich culture and natural beauty—its Rhythms, Rivers and Roads.

The 3 composers take a bow at the end of the Rhythms, Rivers, and Roads concert; Photograph by Sally Bebawy

Farrell’s three-movement Tennessee Roads combined Silverman’s electric violin (with a looping pedal) and a standard string quartet in order to create a postmodern collage of “old and new sounds.” The most beautiful moments were in the second movement, the “Great River Road,” where Farrell’s Mississippi seemed to channel an American version of Bedrich Smetana’s Moldau.

Silverman’s works, The Harpeth River and The Cumberland, both portrayed their composer’s quite idealistic goal of “avoid[ing] the empty clichés and platitudes that surround us and [using] the rich, multi-faceted musical vernacular of our time to hit a nerve, to surprise, to make us hear our world in new ways.” Indeed, The Harpeth River, drawn as it is from a three-note motive, portrays a power and majesty that transcends its meager beginnings.

Walker’s Quartet Out of Time, drawing on the instrumentation from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, included everything from the “high lonesome” Appalachian sound to jazz/blues and a drumless percussion break, and gave a nostalgic and loving depiction of the diversity of music that one can hear in Nashville’s music scene.

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