This review is an Ionarts exclusive.
The implications of this for a listener’s enjoyment or otherwise are obvious. They depend both on one’s taste for the style in question and on one’s attention span. (I started strong on the first but wound up somewhat hamstrung by the second.) Mumford’s music is freely atonal, occasionally dwelling on a few repeated notes but usually unmoored from any pitch center. Many of his phrases are short and bracketed by silence, exquisite aphorisms that carried well in the Gallery’s super-resonant acoustic. There are several elegiac lines that would sound simply sweet if played alone but which are unsettled by the addition of minor second intervals. The music explores a narrow range of moods, mostly alternating between pensive disquiet and fidgety restlessness, with occasional panic attacks, but it never stays in one mood for very long. Hysteria quickly loses steam and falls quiet, while a hushed meditation is rudely interrupted by an anxious outburst.
Receiving its world premiere, eight aspects of appreciation II for violin and cello was a finely crafted revision of an earlier piece. Starting in dialogue, the voices soon drifted apart. In one section they traded off the notes of a gentle lullaby, but agitation kept intruding. (One of Mumford’s favorite gestures is a blunt outburst followed by quiet ruminations, like the splash of a stone in water followed by its ripples.) Another movement evanesced with the violin floating and the cello sinking to the top and bottom of their respective registers, as if falling off opposite ends of the audible spectrum. The final section riffled through themes from the prior ones, as if hurriedly searching for something and not finding it before giving up with a brusque shiver.
Stephen Brookes, Jeffrey Mumford rightly vaunted by National Gallery of Art as composer-in-residence (Washington Post, February 4)