Commissioned works, particularly those commemorating a special occasion, rarely enjoy a shelf life longer than that of a birthday or anniversary card. Nevertheless, the Skaneateles Festival audience kept its hopes high -- if not fingers crossed -- during Friday evening's eagerly anticipated premiere of a work by Carter Pann commissioned by the Festival to celebrate its 30th anniversary season.
Turns out, you could have left the rabbit's foot home. Carter Pann's Summer Songs proved to be an engaging and well-crafted work that weaves in and out of several stylistic temperaments while maintaining a fresh, inventive (and original) harmonic language that defies the listener's ability to predict what's coming next.
Scored for violin, clarinet, cello, piano and narrator, Summer Songs is a suite of five movements based upon selected poems from five Central New Yorkers. Narrator Thom Filicia, a Syracuse native and interior design expert perhaps best known for his appearances on the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" television series, began each movement with a reading of the poem from which that movement was inspired.
There's a serene quality that pervades the gentle first movement, a three-part form based upon David Hitchcock's poem, "First Swim." The music begins with the cello and clarinet mirroring each other in slow, scalewise passages that take the players in opposite directions. Following a splashy, colorful contrasting section, the movement returns to its opening restful atmosphere.
Mary Gardner's "Showing at the State Fair" is a brief but humorous poem set in metric verse to which Pann framed within a wild, tongue-in-cheek concoction of pop and parlor music. The gently paced setting of David Manfredi's nostalgic "I come down in the morning" produces unhurried chord changes over a slow and dreamy tempo. From this tender backdrop the clarinet spins out its lonely tune, couched in a harmonic language that often conjures the color and suggestion of Impressionism.