ArtsATL > Music > Review: Fledgling composer Charles Zoll takes top prize in “Rapido!” national competition

Review: Fledgling composer Charles Zoll takes top prize in “Rapido!” national competition

Ron Antinori (left) and composer Michael Gandolfi applaud Rapido! winner Charles Zoll. (Photo by Nick Arroyo)
Ron Antinori (left) and composer Michael Gandolfi applaud “Rapido!” winner Charles Zoll. (Photo by Nick Arroyo)

Charles Zoll of Arizona was named the national winner of the 2012-13 “Rapido!” composition contest after the final round Sunday afternoon in the Walter C. Hill Auditorium of the Woodruff Arts Center.

Founded by the Atlanta Chamber Players and the Antinori Foundation to promote new composition for chamber ensemble, “Rapido! Take Three! 2012-13” was the third installment of the competition since it was established in 2009. Judges for the finals were Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and composers Jennifer Higdon and Michael Gandolfi. Lois Reitzes of WABE-FM radio presided as host.

The 21-year-old Zoll’s winning composition, “Bailes encima del escritorio de nuestra juventud,” earned him prizes that include a $7,500 commission to expand the five-minute work to 15 minutes for performance by the consortium of five professional chamber ensembles that participated as performers in the regional rounds. Zoll also won an invitation to compose an orchestral work for the ASO and a two-week residency at the Hambidge Center for the Arts in the North Georgia mountains.

Another prize, for “audience favorite,” went to Leanna Primiani of California for her “Holy Order: Shaker Dances,” the result of worldwide online voting based on listening to performances of the finalists’ works via YouTube.

The finalists in Sunday’s adjudicated concert were the winners of regional rounds representing the Northeast, Midwest, West Coast, Southwest and Southeast. In addition to Zoll and Primiani, the other finalists were Mark Berger of Boston, Steven Snethkamp of Indiana and Piotr Szewczyk of Florida.

Although it’s a tiny, oddly cut-out space in the High Museum of Art, the 170 seats in Hill Auditorium’s main level were mostly filled, despite the fact that the Atlanta Falcons were playing in the NFC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome at the same time.

The concert opened with music unrelated to the competition: “Class of 1915” by David Schiff, an homage to African-American composers who wrote in the time of stylistic transition between ragtime and jazz. Schiff juggles his source materials over three movements in a raucous, free-wheeling syncopated collision of foxtrots, blues and rags that ultimately reaches a frenetic conclusion. The 12-minute work was jauntily performed by flutist Christina Smith, clarinetist Alcides Rodriguez, violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, cellist Brad Ritchie and pianist and Atlanta Chamber Players Artistic Director Paula Peace.

Next came the five competition performances, all scored for oboe, violin, cello and piano. Kim and Ritchie continued as performers in this segment, joined by oboist Elizabeth Tiscione and pianist Tim Whitehead.

Although they were printed in the program in alphabetical order by composer’s last name, the order in which the works were performed was decided by a drawing from a hat. Each of the works was written in June of last year over a span of just 14 days (hence the name “Rapido!”), with instructions that the music be related to dance.

First in line was Szewczyki’s “Twisted Dances,” which takes four short traditional dances — polka, waltz, jig and tarantella — and twists them out of context by applying more complex, sometimes quirky rhythmic or harmonic elements upon each. It was followed by Snethkamp’s “Dances From the Luminiferous Ether,” inspired by the dances of Baroque instrumental suites, encompassing elements of gavotte, sarabande and gigue in a single contiguous movement.

Zoll’s “Bailes encima del escritorio de nuestra juventud,” which translates into English as “Dances atop the school desks of our youth,” offered up a pair of dances. It began with an energetic “Flaminco nuevo,” which was followed by a slow, mostly ethereal “Tango morado” — literally “purple Tango,” though one is inclined to speculate on informal figurative uses of “morado.”

Up next was Primiani’s “Holy Order: Shaker Dances,” in which she sought to portray the character of uniform dance used in Shaker religious meetings, sometimes using extended techniques such as having the musicians make shuffling and stomping sounds with their feet. The composer also had the oboist produce harshly timbred wailing and pitch-bending from her instrument, as well as a prominent instance of raspy multiphonic sound near the end. Berger’s “Dream Dances,” a work of internal contrasts that evokes the composer’s memories and personal connections with music and movement, concluded the concert portion of the event.

During intermission, the three judges deliberated for about 30 minutes, after which the audience reassembled and the winner and audience favorite were announced, prizes presented and photos taken.

“I was stunned, in palpable disbelief,” said Zoll of his win. Still in his undergraduate studies at the University of Arizona, the composer had found himself up against doctoral students and seasoned professionals in the final round. Now come the consequential next steps: expanding the music into a longer chamber work and writing an orchestral work for the ASO. “Now that I stop to think about it,” Zoll said, “I realize how much work I’ve gotten myself into.”

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