Richard Danielpour’s “Remembering Neda”


By Daniel Webster

Composer Richard Danielpour, son of Persian Jews, told his listeners Friday at the Trinity Center that he had consciously distanced himself from his heritage when writing music. Philadelphians know this, for they have heard his opera, Margaret Garner, and know his chamber music from performances at Curtis Institute, where he teaches, and at other settings around the city.

But Friday, the chamber ensemble Dolce Suono revealed in a new work how vividly Danielpour feels that heritage. His Remembering Neda, a three-part work for flute, piano, and cello, came from a different sensibility than that of songs from his opera, which the ensemble used to preface the premiere.

The composer explained he had seen Neda Agha-Soltan shot to death in TV coverage of the 2009 protests in Tehran. Some of his own family remain in Iran, and the murder touched the spring that produced music rich in the incantations of the Middle East. The subtle ear can probably hear conflicting resonance of Jewish melody and Iranian melisma, but the point is to hear the Iranian voice crying out at Iranian brutality.

The opening movement, “Lamentation,” used piano and later cello to suggest dull drumming beneath the flute’s outcries and harmonic angularity.

The middle section, “Desecration,” grew to an angry rumble punctuated with harsh, high flute attacks. That section built to a sudden hush followed by poignant soft touches and cries by flutist Mimi Stillman.

In the finale, “Benediction,” pianist Charles Abramovic plucked the strings, creating big contrasts with the heavy keyboard clumps. The section included a slow march toward a gentler region of consonance and serenity. Cellist Yumi Kendall was an effective member of the dialogue with flute and a substantial fundamental for the full ensemble.

Stillman, founder and chief of the ensemble, deftly programmed works to show composers dealing with other exotic lands. Baritone Randall Scarlata applied his warmly ample voice to Ravel’s “La Flute Enchantee” from Sheherazade, and his Chansons Madecasses. Ravel knew the manner and heard the music through a sensibility nurtured in southern France.

Danielpour, writing about the slave Margaret Garner portrayed by Toni Morrison in the novel Beloved, proved skillful at finding the note and gesture to illuminate the text. Scarlata, in those four arias, used his clear articulation to etch dramatic scenes and portraiture.

The evening began with a flutist’s holiday, Gaubert’s Three Watercolors. The trio took its name seriously in realizing the French ideal of painting.

This is an interview with Danielpour who is a Grammy-Award winning composer and “an outstanding composer for any time, one who knows how to communicate deep, important emotions through simple, direct means that nevertheless do not compromise” (New York Daily News).


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