Promising Composer Lays Out Spacious Tone Poem 

                                              By Paul Hertelendy, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance 
                                                                 Week of Dec. 6-13, 2012
                                                                  Vol. 15, No. 35
           BERKELEY---Testing the patience and Sitzfleisch of the loyal patrons at the Berkeley Symphony was the severe Piano Concerto of György Ligeti. But fortunately it went between a Schumann symphony and a ravishing new work by a 21-year-old local composer that the audience (and this critic) liked just fine.  
          Dylan Mattingly’s “Invisible Skyline (in Three Acts)” is a highly attractive, diaphonous soundscape, a programmatic piece (apparently inspired by Kabuki theater, among other things) with few focal moments, and no stand-out thematic material. There are no grand statements in this subdued opus, but rather waves of sound reaching over one another in subtle, ingratiating swells. It’s as if written by a post-Debussy Frenchman who had also studied with John Adams and assimilated the latter’s constant metric changes, 5/4 beats, syncopation, trombone pedal points, propulsive pulse and minimalist touches. (Editor’s Note: Parlez-vous? No son of Gaul, Mattingly is actually a cheerful Berkeleyite who has studied with Adams.)
          There are solos for both violin (Franklyn D’Antonio) and piano (Sarah Cahill) in the 29-minute piece, spread out spaciously rather than concisely. 

          A good bit tougher to chew was the Ligeti concerto, an academic work of immense rhythmic complexity; instead of coordination, the piano and orchestra go off on different beat counts, ever farther apart. You felt that there was a mosaic of fragments being assembled in ever new ways. The severity might be guessed from the dates of composition (1973-86), before tonality and audience-accessibility returned conclusively as the major drivers of new works. I counted only 12 in the shrunken “one-of-each-kind” orchestra, with generous percussion input, and several unusual instruments whipped out occasionally (ocarina, slide whistle, referee whistle, whip-crack).
            The finale was the most appealing, with its jazzy syncopation elements. Demanding the maximum from each diligent listener, the 21-minute five-movement piece earned perfunctory applause. Meriting far more was the Israeli-American pianist, Shai Wosner, who held it together neatly, even when his two hands had to run off to the very opposite ends of the keyboard.  Conductor Joana Carneiro, who surely must have multiple metronomes wired in her brain, led the group through the labyrinths with aplomb and confidence.

            The orchestra sounded quite amazing, after an improbable evolution from the modestly funded, semi-pro group that started it all back in 1969, amidst nay-sayers contending that Berkeley never would or could support a truly professional ensemble.

            The Zellerbach Hall program, dedicated to the Bay Area radio annotator Alan Farley who recently died, concluded with Schumann’s Second Symphony. 

            Berkeley Symphony, Joana Carneiro music director, at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. Next: Feb. 7, highlighting the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto with Lynn Harrell. For info: (510) 841-2800, or go online

        ©Paul Hertelendy 2012
           Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish -- and a certain amount of salsa -- for years.
    These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.

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