On a chilly fall night, the air was further infused with briskness by the sounds emanating from Bristol Chapel at Westminster Choir College. The “Profiles in American Music” concert, featuring the faculty of Westminster Conservatory, drew a sizable crowd on Saturday night.
The event, which was free of charge, was not only an opportunity for some of the teachers from the conservatory to showcase their abilities as performers, but also to present a selection of classical music by American composers.
Starting with a pleasant piece by Ernst Bloch, a duet between flautist Kevin Willois and pianist Patricia Tupta Landy, the evening took off from there in many different directions. From dark fairy tales to folksong-like melodies and a hint of jazz thrown in the mix, the array of classical styles found amid the work of just seven American composers was as eye-opening as it was enjoyable.
During Four Songs by William Bergsma, mezzo-soprano Linda Mindlin brought out the otherworldly quality of the cycle with her ethereal voice as Ivy Haga, Kenneth Ellison (clarinet), and Carmen Mateiescu (piano) all worked together in this Grimm Brothers-like journey. A powerhouse performance from Landy followed as she rang out Robert Muczynski’s Piano Preludes Op. 6. Her mastery of the instrument shone throughout the six movements.
In the next piece, the cello was introduced and with it a dramatic, sweeping quality skillfully executed by Melissa Burton Anderson. After intermission, the performers came back with three songs by William Grant Still that seemed to draw upon the storytelling days of old. Mindlin and Landy let the simplicity of a voice and piano duet tell tales of lost love and leaving home. Mateiescu then performed a piece of her own, From Trickling Hope to Overflowing Joy, while painting vivid images with trickling scales and leaps.
Finally, Four Bagatelles, written by Allan Blank, brought with it a flavor unlike the other works and proved intriguing because of the unique, yet interlocking themes woven throughout the four parts. As the trio of Haga, Willois, and Ellison sat in a semi-circle, their excellent communication and stirring dynamics put a pleasing end to the night.
All of the performers on stage spend a lot of their time educating the next generation of musicians.
“Each informs the other,” said Anderson. “I try to instill in my students a sense of the preparation one has to put in.”
This sharing occurred on many levels at “Profiles in American Music”: teachers sharing their passion for performing with the enthusiastic students who sat in the audience, performers sharing their talent and dedication, and American composers sharing their creations with all who listen.
“There are some people who ignore American music, but there is wonderful music that was composed in the 20th and 21st centuries, and [more is now] being composed,” Willois said. “We should take pride in music that’s homegrown.”
Whether it be an inspirational teacher or encouragement through a stirring piece of music, or both, it is good to appreciate what these people and things have, do, and will continue to give us.
“We all got into this because we love music,” he said. “There is an organic thrill of playing a piece really beautifully. In teaching, you get to share this thing you love so much.”