Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 20
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
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Tim Keyes Consort Presents Original Works In “A View of America” at Richardson

Nancy Plum

The Tim Keyes Consort brought “A View of America” to Richardson Auditorium this past Sunday, with a program comprised primarily of Mr. Keyes’ own music, but one which demonstrated some excellent solo playing by the younger members of the ensemble. Mr. Keyes seems to focus his compositional style on depicting American landscapes, and although his music can be a bit predictable at times, his ability to compose for a wide range of instruments is most commendable. Sunday afternoon’s concert featured three solo instruments (clarinet, piano, and violin) as well as a chamber choir.

The Tim Keyes Consort includes a number of talented students in its orchestral ensemble, and Mr. Keyes clearly enjoys composing for these young players. Clarinetist Soolean Choy is a student at the University of Notre Dame and has extensive performing experience on both the piano and clarinet. For her, Mr. Keyes wrote Small Town, five musical “Miniatures for Clarinet and Piano” portraying life in a time gone by. Accompanied by Darlene Popkey on the piano, Ms. Choy demonstrated a solid command of the music with good breath control and close communication with the pianist to keep the pieces together. Each of the “miniatures” was tuneful, and Ms. Choy obviously enjoyed her solo part, finding a lot of feeling in the melodic lines. Ms. Popkey maintained a lot of flexibility in the accompaniment, especially in “Tree Swing,” which contained almost continuously running passages and arpeggios, which are not easy to keep rhythmically steady. The fifth vignette, “Picket Fence,” was the most complex rhythmically, and Ms. Choy impressively maneuvered a clarinet solo part which included off-beat accents and a clean coloratura, with a few trills thrown in.

Mr. Keyes’ Concerto for Violin, Choir and Orchestra (Colorado) was premiered by the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra in 2004. Sunday’s performance featured Yale student Daniel Choi, also a member of the Keyes Consort. Like Small Town, Colorado also had also had five vignettes, each of which was introduced by a chorale sung by the 17-member chorus. Mr. Keyes seemed to have been seeking a Native American influence in the opening chorale, and despite some tuning problems with the chorus from time to time, there were some nice solo voices in the ensemble and the singers achieved the desired effects to match the texts. The most precise choral tuning was in the fourth movement “Mountain Lake.”

Mr. Choi’s tuning on the violin was impeccable from the outset (especially when playing octaves above the winds), accompanied by effective wind solos and clean horns. The most interesting harmonies could be found in the second vignette, “Front Range,” a theme and variations set in which Mr. Choi played the melody with richness. A very sweet melody in the solo violin marked “Mountain Lake,” with Mr. Choi maintaining good control over vibrato on the violin.

Mr. Keyes closed this tribute to Americana with Cecil Effinger’s An American Hymn, a complex setting of “America the Beautiful.” Through no fault of their own, the voices of the chorus were hard to hear at times, as the setting of the words was very low in the vocal register.

The Tim Keyes Consort showed its commitment to education in this concert with the announcement of two scholarships to members of the ensemble for college music study. Mr. Keyes is a Renaissance musician and creative artist — he was listed in the program as a “composer, song-writer, conductor, vocalist, producer, audio engineer, cinematographer, film editor, liturgist, and pastoral musician.” In its concerts in Princeton this season, the consort has done mostly works of its founder and namesake, with few of the standards, but it also has clearly made a mark in music education in the state.

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