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Winges Takes Flight

Mark Winges: But This Is This

March 31, 2009

Mark Winges, composer for and advisor to the chamber choir Volti, certainly knows how to initiate an intriguing conversation. The proof can be heard on his second CD, But This Is This. Released on the Chicago-based Centaur label, the music on this all-instrumental recording is a bona fide Bay Area effort. The performances by the Left Coast Ensemble String Quartet, Original Eplayers, and other members of the “Freeway Philharmonic” and sundry local ensembles were recorded between 1998 and 2005 in either the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco or the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. There is even an SFCV family connection: Our own chamber music specialist Michelle Dulak Thomson wrote the liner notes, and her husband, George Thomson, conducts the longest work on the program, Palette/Riffs (1998), and plays viola on Familial Banter (1996).

Winges makes it easy to become accustomed to his compositional language by including four different versions of Dusk Music II (1989) on the 67-minute CD. Composed in memory of artist Robert Mapplethorpe, the approximately 4'15 piece includes a section where each of the three players (Tod Brody, alto flute; Darcy Rhindt, viola; and Lyn Fulkerson, cello) is given a choice of which line to play. The four versions (AAA, ABA, BBB, and BAA) can serve as a calling card for a composer who, while serious in intent, enjoys writing music that enables performers to indulge in and relish their instrumental back-and-forths.

Listen to the Music

The title work, But This Is This, constantly seizes attention with the fascinating interaction between Ken Piascik’s percussion and Winges’ organ. The contrast between textures — the breeziness of the light organ, and the emphatic demands of drums, woodblocks, cymbals, and God knows what else — is a special delight. After a somewhat quiet and whimsical middle section, in which the organ and collective percussion seem to tease each other, the piece becomes quite virile and energized. The percussion clearly wins the minibattle, with the organ ending up sounding like R2-D2 short-circuited.

Although you might not know it without reading the liner notes, Gloss (2003), for string quartet, is a commentary on Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131. While the form mirrors the Beethoven quartet’s seven variations, the occasional quarter-tones and frequent chromaticism clearly derive from our own time. Again, there’s room for more than a smile or two amid the serious interplay. You’ll experience the same in Palette/Riffs and Familial Banter (1996). The more you spend time with this music, the easier it becomes to sit back and go along for the ride.

Jason Victor Serinus is a music critic, professional whistler, and lecturer on classical vocal recordings. His credits includes Seattle Times, Listen, Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, Classical Voice North America, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, Stanford Live, Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Examiner, AudioStream, and California Magazine.