The Triumph of Collage

Published on November 15th, 2012 | by Kevin T. McEneaney

To celebrate his 83rd birthday Harold Farberman, founder of the Conductors Guild and the famed Conductors Institute, treated the Bard community to a selection of his musical compositions performed by his students.

The concert began with a percussive array of various drums that really woke you up if you were still digesting dinner. Having garnered your attention, Farberman presented four chamber pieces that I would call chamber slides, each presenting an impressionistic tribute. The first captured the glancing harmonies found in Paul Klee’s paintings; the second appreciated Jackson Pollock’s splatters as articulated by a drum, yet concluded with a questioning motif about the value of Pollock’s later work, a critical perspective with which I agree; the third, an appreciation of Piet Mondrian, presented a happy marriage of Farberman’s own rambling delight with the Dutch painter’s technique, as if they were having a conversation about life and colors over a glass of Champagne; and the fourth, a paean to Frank Lloyd Wright acclaimed Wright’s delight in nature while the seemingly wandering architecture of the musical motifs eventually coalesced into a memorable monumental climax.

Three pieces Farberman composed for the Queen of England’s band followed: the first, featuring harpsichord, pleasantly described Henry Purcell’s optimistic style; the second, a pointillist fugue, praised J.S. Bach’s fecundity, comparing his work to a running stream (“bach” means “stream”); the third presented a parody (in the technical manner of Saint-Saëns’s mischievous parodies) of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s style, criticizing Rameau for his vengeful temperament—the antithesis of Farberman’s own civilized serenity.

After intermission an orchestral fanfare for brass and percussion provided more extroverted satisfaction. Three solo excerpts from Farberman’s opera Diamond Street followed; well-sung, these pieces presented the singers with the awkward dilemma of whether to act or sing, yet the result was pleasantly handled. The evening concluded with the world premiere of “Revenge: A Fantasy,” which dramatized a small-town competition between six violins and a much larger, rag-tag assembly of musicians promoting popular music; the musicians valorized minimalism as they satirized each other, while the composition descended into near silent vacuity until the violins said the hell with minimalism and clobbered the ill-mannered mockers with their sweet, rousing strings.

Farberman’s style remains eclectic. Influenced by the eccentricity of Charles Ives, the harmonies of Debussy, and the agonistic chamber music of Stravinsky, Farberman presents an oscillating collage that resembles the intellectual resonance of Erasmus or Emerson, but in the end, it is, well, … Farbermanesque.

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