The Harvard Composer's Festival made history last Sunday night. Never before had student compositions, including works for full orchestra, been presented on such a large scale. Sponsored by the Adams House Musical Society, the project solved one of a budding composer's most frustrating problems: how to get his music performed. It gave the community a chance to hear what may be highly significant music, and gave local musicians an opportunity to play new works.
A special group of judges was asked to study the scores and select works for two appealing, well-balanced programs. After three weeks, the judges (Prof. Aaron Copland, Prof. G. Wallace Woodworth, Robert Middleton, Allen D. Sapp, all from the music department, Russell Stanger, conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, Mandelbaum, John Davison 1G, Robert Swaney '53, Frank Sander 3G, and this reviewer) selected fifteen chamber, choral, and orchestral compositions. Musical merit was not the sole criterion. We also had to keep the audience and the performers in mind, and choose works not too difficult to play or understand.
The fine publicity work of Burton Malkiel '53, drew a large crowd to the Adams House Dining Hall for the first program Sunday night. The concert began with John Davison's comic overture for seven instruments, II Janitoro. This was a most congenial program-opener--consonant, uncomplicated, with touches of real humor. The ensemble's performance faltered at times, but the piece still sounded sunny and worth hearing again.
Mandelbaum's Flute Sonata received the outstanding performance of the evening. Suzanne Heckman and accompanist Ann Besser played with warmth and ease. The third movement, a gay vivace, received an especially spirited reading. The music itself is essentially jyrical, without being discursive. The composer's style is contemporary but not needlessly dissonant, and he a voids nearly all of the melodic and harmonic cliches.
An Adagio and Presto for Three Violins, Trumpet, and Piano, by Yehudi Wyner 1G, brought the chamber music portion of the program to a close. The unique combination of instruments results in some fascinating sonorities, and there are many passages of great rhythmic originality. But even with the composer at the piano, the performance seemed to lack drive, polish, and rhythmic precision.
In a special intermission feature, Professor Copland, Mr. Middleton and Mr. Sapp discussed these works candidly, directing all their comments at the composers themselves. Davison, Mandelbaum, and Wyner either defended themselves or accepted the criticisms: bad instrumentation, over-length, and so on. The discussion built up the rapport so often lacking between composer and listener.
The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra then presented orchestral selections by Robert Moevs 1G, Victor Yellin 2G, and Leland Proctor (special student). I would prefer not to make any critical appraisal of these works until they receive a better performance. It was foolish optimism to suppose that a student orchestra could do Justice to difficult modern music after only two rehearsals. The result was muddled and destructive.
Nevertheless, the general impression of the Festival remains favorable. It many well mark the beginning of a new tradition of composer-audience rapport that is so necessary on the amateur as well as professional musical scene. The second program. Sunday night in the Adams House Dining Hall, will feature chamber and choral music.