posted 2011-05-11 12:00:13

Joan Valent at CUNY Graduate Center

Joan Valent at CUNY Graduate Center

Majorcan composer brings five new pieces


Daniel Gritz

Contributing Writer

On Jul. 29, Joan Valent presented five new pieces of classical music at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium. The large recital hall was sadly empty with only about fifty people in attendance, but this proved to be at the loss of those not there as Valent’s pieces were ultimately successful.

A Majorcan composer of minimalist classical music, Valent has composed scores for over forty different films, television series and documentaries. In 2011, he was named Artist of the Year by the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Balearic Islands Government.

The concert was conducted by Josep Vicent and performed mainly by the Perspectives Ensemble, a string ensemble consisting of six violins, two cellos and two basses. As the concert progressed, more instruments were added until the centerpiece of the evening, Quatre Estacions a Mallorca (Four Seasons in Majorca), after which most performers exited to give the concert a slow arc reminiscent of a traditional, well-told story.

The first piece, Melodia cega, served as a hesitant introduction to the night. The violins provided a high, almost alien, counterpoint to the depth of the cellos; meanwhile, joyously percussive bells made the audience and conductor grow increasingly excited — Vicent nearly bounced out of his shoes just from sheer eagerness. Melodia cega closed with a happy, albeit somewhat predictable, flourish before going into a melancholic second piece.

The focus of the evening was the violin concert, Quatre Estaciones a Mallorca, which consisted of four movements, one for each season. The first movement, Primavera (Spring), was evocative of an April rainstorm. Percussion and strings wove together to create a warm and dense atmosphere of sound, while the piano’s staccato notes recalled raindrops and thunder. Performers continued to add on tension until they abruptly and anticlimactically stopped playing to loudly turn the pages of their music — this drew a few chuckles from the audience.

Tardor (Autumn) followed up by speaking on loss and the looming harshness of winter. The solo violin (Smerald Spahiu) layered feelings of warmth into the already dense piece. Again, the noisy turning of pages signaled the end of the section while providing a welcome lighthearted counterpoint to the tense performance.

Estiu (Summer) was the third movement of Quatre Estacions, and easily the most energetic one of the four with its constant shift in dynamics. The strings kept fading out and coming back stronger than before, while the piano’s staccato notes added a hurried edge to the season-related performance. By the end of the piece, the conductor was visibly panting.

Concluding the Quatre Estacions portion of the concert, Hivern (Winter) provided the strongest seasonal connection of the four pieces. The string ensemble played deep, slow and gentle notes, while the percussionist (who was, despite his low profile, one of the most crucial performer of the night) gently punctuated the piece with soft bells and chimes. The piano grew harsher as the piece progressed, adding a palpable chill to the air before all of the instruments slowly faded away.

Pangaea, the night’s final piece, only used the string ensemble to finally complete the arc of the concert. Starting slowly, the piece ascended and became faster, louder and richer. Vicent’s movements were tense and closed-in, echoing the tightly-wound precision of the piece. The piece finally rose to a breathless halt, and the audience gave a well-deserved round of applause.

At the very end of the concert, Valent appeared on stage with Vicent, who explained some of Valent’s method: “He works to create music using a very limited ensemble, and he succeeds. His music isn’t just Spanish or Catalan or Majorcan: it’s universal.”