by Steven Pisano
Alex Weiser is a young composer who writes ethereal and quietly emotional music that always sounds like a soul alone in the universe looking for love. Not pining away in loneliness, but forever seeking a higher, purer love, almost religious in nature, like someone who, in Weiser's program notes, is "seeking God without believing in God."
On Monday night, Roulette presented three of Weiser's pieces: last year's Three Epitaphs, Dreaming of Love from 2015, and his newest work and all the days were purple, which was commissioned by Roulette with support from the Jerome Foundation as part of Roulette's Generate program, which helps composers write "ambitious, complex, and often large-scale experimental projects" they might not otherwise be able to do on their own.
Three Epitaphs is a haunting piece that has lingered with me since I first heard it a year ago at Kettle Corn New Music, which Weiser co-founded. (One of the premises of Kettle Corn is that new "classical" music can be enjoyed with a beer and bag of popcorn and need not require cummerbunds and spats.) The lyrics are three poems by William Carlos Williams, Seikilos, and Emily Dickinson, and offer a look back on love lost and the ephemerality of life. As Seikilos writes "While you live, shine/Don't suffer anything at all." This is an insightful work of great poetic depth, made more so by the excellent singing of soprano Eliza Bragg, who not only played violin to start off the piece, but who throughout the night was the compelling core of the concert.
Dreaming of Love arose from Weiser's life-long focus on the concept of romantic love. But at the same time, he has always been bothered by the traditional gender roles and trappings associated with such romance. So, he has tried to write a new argument unencumbered by those traditional views. To me, though, this was the least successful of the three works. It seemed to strive to say more than actually came across in the music.
The evening was capped off by and all the days were purple sung in Yiddish and English from various poets including Anna Margolin. Weiser, who currently is the director of public programs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, describes the texts as "secular prayers." The work is full of beautifully haunting melodies and percussive progressions that are reminiscent of a religious service. Again, Weiser's fascination with love--both sweetly seeking it, and wistfully recalling its loss--and also his intermixing of more religious and spiritual themes, are the essence of the work.
Excellent musical support throughout the evening was supplied by Lee Dionne (piano), Hannah Collins (cello), Hannah Levinson (viola), Maya Bennardo (violin) and Michael Compitello (percussion).
More photos can be found here.