The chamber music composer-flutist Katherine Hoover has been well-known for quite some time, but that she is an accomplished orchestral composer may come as news to many. It is good news, for the works presented on this CD are strong, assertive compositions written with considerable orchestral imagination. Of the works presented here, I like Night Skies best. It is a tone poem of some 25 minutes duration, in a single movement with many contrasting episodes and several effective climaxes. Despite its length, the work maintains its momentum and holds the listener's interest from beginning to end. Conductors who might be daunted by the length of Night Skies would do well to consider Two Sketches, whose combined length is just over ten minutes. Full of striking sonorities and rich orchestral invention, this highly accessible work would fit well on many an orchestral program. To fully appreciate the music of Eleni it is necessary to read the program note by the composer. The music is anecdotal and descriptive, so that the listener has to begin by learning the story of the heroic Greek woman whose sacrifice was recounted both in book form and in a movie. The program note explains the use of Greek folkloristic elements and indicates the overall shape of the composition. That done, the listener will find that Eleni is a dramatic and moving composition.
The Double Concerto is a mettlesome work, combining the two solo violins with the string orchestra in a variety of ways. The solo parts weave in and out of each other's space, creating an ever-changing texture the is supported, interrupted, and answered by the string orchestra. The performances by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Joel Suben are first-rate. The Wisconsin Philomusica led by Vartan Manoogian does a good job but the driving force in the Concerto is the pair of soloists. Shame on our orchestras for not giving American audiences the opportunity to hear such fine music!
Female composers have had a hard time of it in Western musical culture. They've been traditionally depicted as mere ancillaries to their legitimately ordained male counterparts. Katherine Hoover, already fairly well represented on the Leonarda label, may strike some of you as a grudgingly ordained female composer.
Make no mistake; she's a composer.
Her language is post-Wagner, post-Webern, post-whatever... a catchall label that has been forwarded to define music that's difficult and beyond the ken of so-called normal commercial audiences. She is decidedly not a late-20th-century neo-Romatnic hoping to cull record sales through a language that has been ripped off from Rachmaninov, Puccini, and their followers. Her music is at once forbiddingly stringent and uncompromising, demanding our utmost attention and concentration in order to succeed. She's also tunefully virtuosic in the same way that Haydn was - able to make her language relate to ours, whatever its musical shortcomings.
Katherine Hoover was born in West Virginia and now resides in New York. Educated at the Eastman School, she is a flutist with the rare credential of having been tutored by the legendary William Kincaid of the Philadelphia Orchestra. She is the recipient of a 1979 National Endowment Composer's Fellowship. So what? She has been anointed along with thousands of others. Why should we possibly pay attention to her music? Because it's inventive and, in the final analysis, compelling in its own language and on its own terms. She has a gift for theater, and shows it in its most elemental and unadorned form. In these pieces her methodology is decidedly modern. She proves to be a transcendentally compelling voice that bends the rules in the direction of pure affect...and one that ought to be heard. Eleni: A Greek Tragedy is told from a woman victim's point of view, but one that's universalized through Hoover's language.
The other pieces on this release show her prowess in dealing with tonalism stretched, but not broken. Two Sketches (1989) opens with aphoristic flute motives - they are two deftly crafted tone poems that run the gamut between purely lyrical tonalism and the most arcane and studied structuralism. She picks and chooses, and selects whatever will serve her purposes best. The Double Concerto celebrates Neoclassicism, but with melodic and harmonic turns that conjure up shades of late Shostakovich and Schnittke. It's a brilliantly conceived and quite sad work that makes short moments of silence and sound equally telling. As for the final piece, Night Skies, an extended and timelessly Impressionistic symphonic poem with augmented percussion, go discover it for yourself.
In all cases, these performances, captured in technically impeccable sound, make a strong and most satisfying case.
Katherine Hoover is an extraordinary composer. She has a wide and fascinating vocabulary which she uses with enormous skill. Her music is fresh and individual. It is dazzlingly crafted, and will reach an audience as it provides interest to the professional musician. I do not know why her works are not yet being played by the major institutions of this country, but I am sure that she will attain the status she deserves in time. She is just too good not to be recognized, and I predict that her time will come soon.