Of the four works on last Friday's American Composers Orchestra concert at Zankel Hall—dubiously entitled "Time Travels"—only two had anything to do with time (unless you acknowledge that all music is about time).
Lukas Foss' Time Cycle (1960), the only non-premiere on the bill, has long been a staple for its rich color and surreal, dreamlike quality. The ACO percussion section provided chimes and tick-tocks while soprano Jennifer Zetlan lit fire to the half-English/half-German text. (Foss, a native of Berlin, emmigrated to the U.S. when he was 15.)
Holding its own against Foss' masterpiece was Zhou Long's Bell Dream Towers, inspired by the towers of ancient China from which drums and bells once sounded to keep the time. Zhou, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for his opera Madame White Snake, combined contemporary Western writing with the more traditional sounds of his native China, creating a hypnotic, otherworldly soundscape.
Give Kate Soper props: not only was she present for the premiere of her first-ever orchestra commission, now is forever: 1. Orpheus and Eurydice, she sang it. Courage. Unfortunately, the music itself sounded spiky and disjointed, not helped by the fact that it was hard to hear Soper; it wasn't clear whether her nerves or her orchestration were to blame.
Kyle Blaha's Triptych contained the most tonal, accessible music on the program, alternating lyrical passages with repetitive riffs. Nevertheless, it too suffered from a certain lack of sophistication—no doubt attributable to Blaha's newbie status as an orchestral composer.
During the first half of the program, ACO Music Director George Manahan was given the Ditson Conductors Award for his contributions to American music, making him the second consecutive NYC-based conductor to get the award. Given his leadership, not only of the ACO, but also his longtime association with City Opera—which has done more than any company anywhere to champion new American music—I can't think of anyone more deserving.
More pics on the photo page.