Donald Crockett, Xtet shine at Wednesday recital

Many of Los Angeles’s top instrumentalists gathered together Wednesday night for a stunning musical performance led by USC faculty composer and conductor Donald Crockett.

The Faculty Recital took place in Alfred Newman Recital Hall and lasted approximately two hours with intermission.

Crockett is the chair of the music composition department in the Thornton School of Music and director of the Thornton Contemporary Music Ensemble. The recital included three of Crockett’s own compositions.

Crockett’s works included two from the past fourteen years and a more recent one from 2009. His music followed the contemporary classical style, in which melodies are more disjointed and atonal. All of his pieces were equally impressive in their abilities to create powerfully eerie atmospheres.

Although Crockett garnered high enthusiasm as primary composer and solo conductor, the recital also brought much-deserved attention to Crockett’s ensemble, Xtet.

Xtet is composed of several musicians and primarily plays contemporary classical music from the 20th and 21st centuries.

The recital honored Crockett’s 60th birthday as well as Xtet’s 25th year in existence.

“Whistling in the Dark” was the first piece performed, and it instantly set the stage for the rest of the recital. The work has just one movement and was composed by Crockett in 1999.

Through its impressive arrangement, “Whistling in the Dark” shined bright as a captivating opener. The incorporation of various percussive instruments, like maracas, a log drum and a tambourine, helped create a more primitive-sounding folk piece that flaunted an almost mystical allure.

Crockett’s two other works, “Night Scenes” and “Extant,” were similarly spellbinding.

In the first movement of “Extant,” Crockett revealed a more gentle aspect of his personality. For this piece, the harp and bassoon were introduced, which ultimately lent “Extant” a uniquely ethereal feel that Crockett’s previously performed pieces had lacked.

But by the second movement, the piece had quickly transformed itself into a belligerent harmony that was both loud and evocative.

When it comes to Crockett’s style, several people hold different opinions.

“Crockett’s music is often dynamic and exciting, but, for some, I think its disjointedness can discourage people, especially those not well immersed in 20th century classical music,” said Hunter Van Brocklin, a sophomore majoring in music composition.

In addition to Crockett, two of the five pieces performed were composed by USC alumni Jeffrey Holmes and Andrew Norman. Both Holmes and Norman studied under Crockett during their times at Thornton.

Holmes’ “Blue Sail” was a strong contender in Wednesday’s recital. Its contrasting moods and rhythms directly paralleled its titular images of ocean currents, making for a wonderfully sensory experience.

Likewise, Norman’s six-movement piece, “The Companion Guide to Rome,” fit in perfectly with the atonalities found in Crockett’s works.

The highlight of the night was Norman’s sixth movement, Cecilia. The movement was performed entirely by solo violinist Joel Pargman. In an unexpected twist, Pargman stood with his back to the audience throughout his solo performance. The unusual angle allowed the audience to concentrate less on Pargman as a performer and more on the nuanced intricacies of Norman’s charmingly poignant composition.

Although Pargman stuck out as one of the most talented of the night, all of the instrumentalists were spot-on with their performances.

Violinist Sarah Thornblade was the most heavily engaged with her surroundings and played more passionately than anybody else onstage. When tunes turned sorrowful, her face mimicked the woe and misery without fail.

On a similar note, cellist Roger Lebow performed flawlessly in every piece in the concert. His attitude was consistently cheerful and upbeat, and his accuracy did not weaken as the show progressed.

Although the concert was not as well-attended as some of the more popular events on-campus, the audience’s excitement proves that more people, even non-music majors, should make an effort to attend similar events in the future.

“I think non-music majors should at least explore the diversity the Thornton School has to offer. This was a special faculty event featuring guest artists and a real treat for new music buffs like myself,” said Michael Matsuno, a junior majoring in flute performance. “Though it’s fair to say people will gravitate towards one thing or another, I would encourage anyone to go out on a limb and give our ensembles a try.”