The Music of Missy Mazzoli in Baltimore ~ A Review

Photo courtesy of Stephen Taylormazzoli

Evolution Series
The Music of Missy Mazzoli
Missy Mazzoli, piano
Also featuring Joshua Anderson, clarinet
Brian Barone, electric guitar
Rachel Choe, flute
Kristen Dubenion-Smith, mezzo-soprano
Joseph Magar, bass
Lauren Rausch, violin
Bethany Pietroniro, piano
Christy Muncey, conductor
An Die Musik
Baltimore, MD
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Written by Megan Ihnen

Missy Mazzoli’s music introduces the audience to a composer that is an adoring tailor of sounds. She presents a love of the simple and strong, but with affection toward idiomatic embellishment. The performers of Baltimore’s Evolution Series were able to capture that care during Tuesday evening’s concert at An Die Musik with the composer in attendance.

During the pre-concert interview with Evolution Founder and Artistic Director, Judah Adashi, Mazzoli provided insight not only into her music but her journey as a composer as well. When her teacher John Harbison encouraged her to go to the Netherlands to study with Louis Andriessen, she could not have predicted the musical ethos she would experience there. She remembered, “The government was just throwing money at the arts and you had the feeling that you could indulge your wildest dreams.” It seems that Mazzoli’s time abroad allowed her a freedom to pursue her aims as a composer even when she returned to the States. Working as Meredith Monk’s personal assistant and with Phillip Glass during her tenure as Executive Director of the MATA Festival, influenced her style as well as her ability to advocate for her music. Currently in a three-year residency with Opera Philadelphia, Mazzoli expressed an appreciation for the unique storytelling of the form.

All of the music performed on Tuesday had a sense of that storytelling. “Dissolve, O My Heart”, commissioned by Jennifer Koh based on the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, was “approached from a place of inevitable failure when compared to this famous violin work,” Mazzoli divulged. Lauren Rausch carried out the piece (titled after the aria in Bach’s Saint John Passion) with tenderness and yet, a persistent, plaintive quality to the glissando between pitches. Even Mazzoli had a chance to play her own musical story with “Orizzonte”, which she wrote while in the Netherlands. This piece builds from a low, straightforward motive against pre-recorded sound. Meaning “horizons”, “Orizzonte” was originally written to be performed on a very “special” piano that had been left out in the rain for some time. In this piece, one would not have noticed the lack of certain pitches.

It is clear that Mazzoli is captivated by the story of Isabelle Eberhardt, the 19th and early 20th century female explorer, and wants to share that feeling with her audiences. Tuesday’s concert began and ended with pieces inspired by Eberhardt’s story. Against pre-recorded fragments of Schubert’s A Major Piano Sonata, Mazzoli’s “Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos” is intended to be a fever dream for the subject while wandering around the desert. Bethany Pietroniro played with a musicality that belied the click-track in her ear with a caring sense of voicing which allowed the melodic lines to rise above the driving texture. In the suite from Mazzoli’s first chamber opera, Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt, she approaches a similar sense of abstract dreaminess. Kristen Dubenion-Smith, mezzo-soprano, brought a deep sense of isolation to the re-imagined texts from Eberhardt’s journals with her clear tone and dark color. All members of the ensemble; Pietroniro, Brian Barone – electric guitar, and Joe Magar – bass, demonstrated beautiful, melodic tones as well as driving percussive force. Rachel Choe, flute, and Joshua Anderson, clarinets, gave finer clarity to their lines especially in a hocketing section during “Here Where Footprints Erase the Graves.”

This season of one-composer concerts from Evolution Series is an exciting way to become more familiar with contemporary composers across a collection of their works. Even hearing Mazzoli’s musical ideas regarding Isabelle Eberhardt from works that span five years is a glimpse into her evolving style.


Along with a fabulous career as a mezzo-soprano vocalist, Megan Ihnen also writes a blog titled The Sybaritic Singer, where she keeps an extensive diary on work with other musicians.


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