The American Board of Pediatric Neurological Surgery

Apr 29, 2010

Composition Contest Winner

Review by Pierre Ruhe,

An innovative, or maybe crazy, project launched a year ago has come to fruition -- and there's news of a much bigger version in the works.

At the Shakespeare Tavern in Midtown on Wednesday, the Atlanta Chamber Players gave the world premiere of Jon Jeffrey Grier's "Diverse Variations on A-C-P," 13 minutes of marvelous, quirky, touching, moody and thoroughly engrossing music. It was an unexpectedly satisfying end to "Rapido: a 14 Day Composition Contest."

A little background. Last year, pianist Paula Peace and local arts benefactor Ron Antinori hatched the novel (and frankly improbable) "Rapido." In brief: composers from across the South were given two weeks to write an original, five-minute piece of music. It's a composers' version of the trendy 48-hour film-making contests. After several rounds of judging -- culminating in the four finalists in a concert in October 2009 -- the winning work was by Grier, a jazz musician and high school music teacher in South Carolina, who beat several more prominent composers for the prize.

By competition rules, Grier was awarded $5,000 to beef up his short entry into a finished piece. That work -- in three movements, scored for oboe, violin, viola, cello and piano -- premiered Wednesday.

On paper, it's composed a bit like a puzzle; to the ear it's loaded with personality and originality. The notes A, C and B form the music's DNA code, repeated, flipped and transformed endlessly. There are echoes of formal patterns, like canon and theme-and-variations. The harmonies are unexpectedly piquant without sounding bitter -- perhaps citrusy, like the enjoyable tartness of a ripe lemon.
It's very busy music -- scurrying, lurching, jittery -- and finds repose only briefly. It all sounded very difficult to put together. The busyness makes the music inscrutable, yet suggests a strong emotional and psychological profile. Who knows? Grier's voice is fundamentally dark without brooding, and he's got the ear and the sincerity to craft some really lovely moments -- not glib pretty tunes, but melodies that are hard-earned and thus all the more rewarding.

The second movement was his original "Rapido" entry, and it's a little more spontaneous than the others, with a blazing energy that takes bigger risks and yields bigger payoffs. I hope Peace and her chamber players don't keep "Diverse Variations" on the shelf too long.

And the latest news? "Rapido" has gone national. For next season, the Atlanta Chamber Players will again determine a Southern winner, while Boston Musica Viva simultaneously trolls New England and Chicago's Fifth House Ensemble seeks out Midwestern composers. There will be regional contests and a national finals. Each ensemble will then pass around the winning work, extending its reach.

Pierre Ruhe is classical music critic of


Ensembles Atlanta Film Festival PARMA RECORDINGS PARMA Licensing PARMA Licensing Atlanta Symphony Left Coast Chamber Ensemble Voices of Change Voices of Change Fifth House Ensemble Boston Musica Viva Atlanta Chamber Players