... the most exciting voice heard during the evening was that of Saginaw Township composer Catherine McMichael, who premiered yet another piece in her growing repertoire of classical works.
It seems like every time we review one of her compositions we say it is the best yet, so at the risk of repeating ourselves, we say ditto to "Le Porte Del Paradiso," a three-part work based on a bronze door in Florence that tells 10 Old Testament stories.
McMichael chose "Sarah at the Tent," "King Solomon Welcomes The Queen of Sheba at Court" and "The Conquest of Jericho" for her commission from First Presbyterian.
And she chose [organist Gregory H.] Largent, the Valley Wind Quintet of Saginaw Valley State University and percussionist John Dorsey of Ann Arbor to perform it, along with her own narration featuring the biblical settings.
There is a wonderful desert/Middle Eastern/biblical sound to this work that is hard to verbalize. And its flow between the organist, the woodwinds and the percussion is impossible to separate. They play as one, as impossible as that sounds, and to leave out any of those three components would spell doom to the work so in balance are they with each other.
"Sarah," for example, begins with Jane Bellen's oboe and the percussionist's wood chimes. In "King Solomon," William Wollner's French horn and the percussionist's cymbals build a cascade of sound. And in "Jericho" the French horn and gong meld overtop a deep organ line.
The work is full of ebb and flow like this -- Linda Hargett's strong and steady clarinet starting the "King Solomon," Lauren Rongo's flute whistling like the wind in the desert, Drew Hinderer's bassoon sounding discordant notes as the battle of Jericho rages, Dorsey's multitude of percussionist instruments accenting a phrase here and there from the gong to a tambourine to drums, and always, always Largent's organ as an earthy, supportive undertow.
"Le Porte" is a complex, layered work that on the surface manages to sound simple and pleasing and uncomplicated. Carefree, almost. A touch whimsical.
What a pity there are not many, if any, organ and wind quintet works on paper. Their color and texture combination is wonderful.