August 2011 Convention
Charlotte, NC

Between Two Worlds

Flutist Sue Ann Kahn and pianist Andrew Willis presented a short recital of two substantial and iconic works of American flute music: George Rochberg’s Between Two Worlds (Ukiyo-e III) (1982) and Stephen Jaffe’s Three Figures and a Ground (1989). Both performers were eloquent advocates of this music, Kahn having presented the world première of Rochberg’s work and Willis up to the fierce challenges of the piano parts. The two works make an appropriate pair, as Jaffe studied with Rochberg and quotes from his teacher’s music in his flute piece.

left to right: Andrew Willis (piano), Sue Ann Kahn, Stephen Jaffe, and Patricia Spencer

photo by Leonard Garrison

George Rochberg (1918-2005) was for most of his career professor of composition at the University of Pennsylvania. His early music is in an advanced serial style, which he controversially abandoned to write in various total idioms. His last three string quartets often come close to the style of Beethoven, without a modern sense of irony.

Ukiyo-e III, in an atonal setting, is the last part of a tryptich; Ukiyo-e I is for harp; and the second piece, subtitled Slow Fires of Autumn, is for flute and harp. The Japanese title refers to a type of woodblock print. Kahn and Willis played the first three of five movements. The rhetorical Fantasia is in a recitative style, the Scherzoso is playful, and the Night Scene is atmospheric.

Jaffe’s monumental piece, also in an atonal idiom, demands the same level of preparation as Robert Beaser’s Variations for flute and piano (1982) or Joseph Schwantner’s Looking Back (2009), so it was a rare treat to hear it live. The composer is faculty at Duke University and was in attendance, as was Patricia Spencer, a co-commissioner of his work. The three figures of the title are, according to Spencer, “a song, a dance, and a scherzo.” The fourth movement, “Introduction and the Ground,” summarizes the previous material and combines it with gestures from Rochberg’s Second Symphony. The playfulness and lyricism of this piece gives it an immediate appeal, despite its density.

Kahn is a former president of the NFA and faculty at the Mannes College the New School for Music.

—Leonard Garrison