May/June 1999

Parnassus PACD 96019 (67:52)

"Female composers have had a hard time of it in Western musical culture. They've been traditionally depicted as mere ancillaries to their legitimately ordained male counterparts. Katherine Hoover, already fairly well represented on the Leonarda label, may strike some of you as a grudgingly ordained female composer.

Make no mistake; she's a composer.

Her language is post-Wagner, post-Webern, post-whatever... a catchall label that has been forwarded to define music that's difficult and beyond the ken of so-called normal commercial audiences. She is decidedly not a late-20th-century neo-Romatnic hoping to cull record sales through a language that has been ripped off from Rachmaninov, Puccini, and their followers. Her music is at once forbiddingly stringent and uncompromising, demanding our utmost attention and concentration in order to succeed. She's also tunefully virtuosic in the same way that Haydn was - able to make her language relate to ours, whatever its musical shortcomings.

Katherine Hoover was born in West Virginia and now resides in New York. Educated at the Eastman School, she is a flutist with the rare credential of having been tutored by the legendary William Kincaid of the Philadelphia Orchestra. She is the recipient of a 1979 National Endowment Composer's Fellowship. So what? She has been anointed along with thousands of others. Why should we possibly pay attention to her music? Because it's inventive and, in the final analysis, compelling in its own language and on its own terms. She has a gift for theater, and shows it in its most elemental and unadorned form. In these pieces her methodology is decidedly modern. She proves to be a transcendentally compelling voice that bends the rules in the direction of pure affect...and one that ought to be heard. Eleni: A Greek Tragedy is told from a woman victim's point of view, but one that's universalized through Hoover's language.

The other pieces on this release show her prowess in dealing with tonalism stretched, but not broken. Two Sketches (1989) opens with aphoristic flute motives - they are two deftly crafted tone poems that run the gamut between purely lyrical tonalism and the most arcane and studied structuralism. She picks and chooses, and selects whatever will serve her purposes best. The Double Concerto celebrates Neoclassicism, but with melodic and harmonic turns that conjure up shades of late Shostakovich and Schnittke. It's a brilliantly conceived and quite sad work that makes short moments of silence and sound equally telling. As for the final piece, Night Skies, an extended and timelessly Impressionistic symphonic poem with augmented percussion, go discover it for yourself.

In all cases, these performances, captured in technically impeccable sound, make a strong and most satisfying case."William Zagorski