NEW YORK TIMES, Jan 23, 2006
Music | MUSIC REVIEW
For One Composer, the Power of African Music Is Endless
By BERNARD HOLLAND JAN. 23, 2006
Brief concerts in a brief series at the Miller Theater over the weekend have taken a look at African music and its recent contacts with the Western tradition. They end tonight with an African Music Symposium. They began on Friday with music by Bongani Ndodana.
Memories of Dvorak, Grieg, Gershwin and the like have led us to the shopworn formula of raw beauty invigorating European style while being smoothed and shaped by it. Mr. Ndodana’s music suggests that in the case of Africa at least, we may have things backward. Nine local musicians played seven pieces by Mr. Ndodana, a young South African. He conducted intermittently and also added a sociological or historical word or two explaining the origins of titles like “Hintsa’s Dances,” “Rainmaking” and “Sons of the Great Tree.”
Actually, Mr. Ndodana’s delicately made music — airy, spacious, terribly complex but never convoluted — has a lot to teach the Western wizards of metric modulation and layered rhythms about grace and balance. He reminds us that most of our notions about musical motion in the last century came in their roundabout way from Africa or Southeast Asia in the first place, and that Africans tend to do it better than we do.
Mr. Ndodana has obviously had a lot of Western training as well. The light touch of his string quartet writing in “Miniatures on Motherhood” showed a man intimate with the possibilities and limitations of European instruments. This program mixed the quartet of string with flute (Marco Granados), clarinet (Anthony McGill), harp (June Han) and percussion — especially marimba (Makoto Nakura and Eric Poland). Jesse Mills, Tai Murray, Beth Guterman and Michael Nicolas were the string players. All had their hands full with the sophisticated shifts in speed and emphasis.
In “Rainmaking,” five musicians were sent off simultaneously in their separate directions. “Hintsa’s Dances” was professionally managed, though the musicians could have used another rehearsal. “Threnody, Part 5,” a solo cello piece more in the European tradition, was well played by Mr. Nicolas. Dawn Padmore’s resonating soprano voice in “Miniatures on Motherhood” seemed uncomfortably big for the piece at hand, but one liked her stage presence.
Mr. Ndodana is not a raw talent; he is a talent and, at 31, possesses a clear and gentle voice of his own.
The African Music Symposium is tonight at 8 at the Miller Theater, Broadway at 116th Street, Morningside Heights; (212) 854-7799.