I first encountered the composer William Susman (1960- ) when one of his works appeared on a program which included a solo cello and electronics piece by Vivian Fung. This solo electroacoustic piece, the work I was initially asked to review, was nestled in the middle of an interesting program by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. I chose to review the entire concert which was a fascinating selection of new music. William Susman’s “In a State of Patterns” (2018) struck me immediately as interesting post-minimalist work.
Mr. Susman read my review and rather promptly sent me this 2014 CD on his Belarca label. It contains four of his works from 1992-2010 and is a fine sampling of his work. All works are here performed by the Octet Ensemble which includes: Alan Ferber, trombone; Mike Gurfield, trumpet; Melissa Hughes, vocals; Elaine Kwon, piano; Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass; Demetrius Spaneas, saxophone; Greg Zuber, drums and percussion; and William Susman, electric piano.
There are four pieces on 12 tracks. The disc begins with Camille (2010), a very listenable post-minimal chamber work. It is followed by a melancholy song cycle, Scatter My Ashes (2009) on poems by the composer’s sister Sue Susman.
The third piece is a wonderful piano concerto. There are not a lot of convincing concertos in the minimalist genre but this one is a candidate for being a poster child. It is for piano with chamber ensemble. Here the composer goes not for the finger busting virtuosity that seems to be the current vogue but rather he evokes a latter day Mozart with more technically modest but highly entertaining music that communicates directly. Curiously (is this a carry over from the Steve Reich and/or The Philip Glass Ensemble?) he uses a wordless vocal (Hughes) as a part of the instrumental texture. Elaine Kwon handles the featured keyboard part. It works very well.
He ends with an arrangement for OCTET of Moving in to an Empty Space (1992, arr 2010), another setting of his sister’s lovely poetry. Again he evokes the somber but it is more in the nature of exorcising the demons of sadness much like the mission of the poet.