A Water Bird Talk

During a recent Art Talk at the Salt Lake Art Center, one participant wondered at the community’s tepid embrace of the Art Center compared to its enthusiastic support of the Symphony, which is housed next door and shares the same logistical situation. Afterwards, in a conversation with friends, I objected to the comparison, pointing out that while the Symphony plays time-honored favorites like Beethoven, Mozart & Vivaldi, the Art Center takes on the more audacious task of concentrating on living or recently deceased artists, sometimes little known or understood by the general public. But as a friend pointed out to me, my characterization of the Symphony’s repertoire was far too broad, ignoring, for instance, that its first chamber music concert of its 2008-2009 season features a work by a living composer.

Dominick Argento’s A Water Bird Talk, which will be performed Wednesday and Thursday at Westminster College’s Vieve Gore Recital Hall, is part of the Ardean Watts New Music Series. Inspired by a Chekhov short story, the piece is a one-man opera that takes the form of a slide lecture on the subject of birds, in particular on species whose traits and condition remind the Lecturer of his henpecked domestic life. These elements intrude on the lecture, which devolves into a form of chaos.
Waterbird Talk
Celia Baker wrote about the piece earlier this week in the Tribune. She quotes Bass-baritone Timonthy Jones, who plays the role of the lecturer as saying ""It’s not the usual ugly contemporary music," Jones said. "[Argento] composed it in a way that even though it involves some serial compositional techniques, the overall impression of the piece is lyrical and beautiful."" Jones may be hitting on something about contemporary artforms. While employing new compositional and theoretical techniques, artists should remain mindful of the lyrical and beautiful. It is hard for a visual art to convince or challenge the mind if it hasn’t first seduced the eyes.

But we were talking about music . . . and this was really a chance to plug the Symphony, which has been a longtime supporter of 15 Bytes. So whether you like the old dead guys or are fascinated by the contemporary stuff, be sure to check out the Symphony’s 2008-2009 season at

— Shawn Rossiter

Categories: Music

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