Richard Kamins 12-19-02
Greater Middletown and Shoreline editions of the Hartford Courant

An epigram is defined as “a short poem expressing a single thought or observation with terseness or wit” (American Heritage Dictionary, second college edition.)

Violist and composer Jessica Pavone, a graduate of the Hartt School of Music and former member of the Middletown Creative Orchestra, has issued a new CD, her 3rd as either leader or co-leader. Titled “27 Epigrams” (Peacock Records,) the program is a collection of 27 short pieces ranging from 12 seconds to almost 4 minutes. Twelve compositions are performed by a quartet comprised of bassoon, English horn, cello, and viola. Nine tracks feature a trio of marimba, clarinet, and viola while the remaining six are solo pieces for viola.

In the summer 2001, Pavone, the composer, had just finished a project utilizing all stringed instruments as well as a duo recording and had no inkling of a new direction. The inspiration for the first new set of compositions (the quartet pieces) came from painting — winter had set in and she worked on canvasses to clear her mind (one of those paintings is on the cover of the recording.) She felt driven to write pieces for different instrumentation. Pavone liked the match of bassoon (Susanne Chen) and English horn (Michael Herbst) and felt the cello (Gil Selinger) and her viola would be good foil for their reedy sound.

After finishing those works, she set about creating a trio matching the melodic yet percussive sound of the marimba (Dave Brandt) with the husky tones of the clarinet (Jackson Moore) and viola. A good portion of the quartet pieces display both an inner (and outer) beauty — the melody lines on “quartet iii” are shared by the players and the phrases move seamlessly from one instrument to the next. In contrast, there is much tension on the trio tracks. The clarinet and marimba lines tend to be short, confrontational (at times), and less melodic while the viola lines are more sustained, acting as the glue between melody and rhythm.

After completing the trio pieces, Pavone set out to create short solo works for her viola. One can hear her minimalist roots in these tracks — “solo iv”, 3’43” seconds of sustained tones (really only one note with an occasional variation), is concerned more with sound then with melody. The only modulations are in the attack and the dynamics. “solo iii” has a far-Eastern feel in its delicate melody, played pizzicato (plucked) — there are moments on this track when the viola sounds like a harp. Other pieces have a more light-hearted feel. “solo ii” sounds like a slow-motion hoedown, with a slow, bouncy, 2-note opening which moves onto a another section with the same rhythm only played on several strings instead of one. Next the tempo is doubled and one can sense dancers swirling around the floor. The final section goes back to the 2-note motif, only now the bounce is downplayed and the feeling is wistful. All that goes on in just 2’44”.

“27 Epigrams” is not easily pigeon-holed music. The solo pieces do not stick to one style, the quartet tracks often have a chamber music feel while the trio compositions could be called avant-garde jazz. The variety is impressive, perhaps not as a selling point but as a description for what Jessica Pavone has created. This is her music, played the way she wrote it and how she wants it to sound. Instead of that being an ego trip, it serves as a defining moment for her as a composer. If you can set aside your preconceptions about “new music” and take your time exploring these “little” pieces, you’ll discover Pavone’s “epigrams” are intelligent and clearly drawn. Yes, it can be challenging yet this music can also be pleasing. For more information, go to


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