Which made for a knowledgeable and an appreciative throng, if not a particularly egalitarian one. But with each of the four composers represented on the program in attendance, the mood was generally open, enhanced by their unpretentious comments on the music.
First up was former University of Utah faculty member David Froom, now at St. Mary's College in Maryland, introducing his Fantasy for Violin and Piano, penned in 1977. An effort to combine what he described as "non-traditional tonal language" with "the emotional feeling of the romantic era," its concise four-movements-in-one structure sweeps the listener along from the increasingly agitated opening, the limpid piano writing of the slow section and the playful pizzicati of the scherzo, culminating in a flashily incisive finale.
Throughout violinist Lynnette Thredgold and pianist Jed Moss gave a strong account of the piece, the former seeming most at home in the music's edgier pages.
Even more accessible was Scott Wheeler's "Wasting the Night," five songs based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. As performed by soprano Mary Ann Dresher and pianist Marjorie Janove, these emerged as evocative settings of the Millay originals, capturing not only their sadness and regret (as, for example, in "Time Does Not Bring Relief") but their occasional humor and bitter irony. Thanks to Dresher's intelligent highlighting of the text, moreover, one was made aware of verbal as well as musical parallels, counterpointed by Janove's expert shading of the piano part.
Less inviting, but no less concise, were U. professor Steven Roens' Five Pieces for String Trio, as played by Thredgold, violist Jeffrey Wagner and cellist Audrey Terry. Indeed, terse might be the word for these five miniatures, very much in the post-Schoenberg-and-Webern tradition. Two in fact were receiving their world premiere, making, in Roens' words, a piece that was "excessively short" "merely short."
The result is a sequence more easily admired than loved. But one does admire the craftsmanship, as the disharmonies of the first are echoed in the third and the disparate lines of the whole remain tantalizingly unresolved in the last.
Nor is resolution a strong point of University of Minnesota composer Lloyd Ultan's "Introspections and Allegories," a two-part opus that pretty much opposes solo clarinet - here played with panache by the Utah Symphony's Christie Lundquist - and synthesizer, jointly managed by Janove and Mark Watts. But the juxtaposition is an interesting one, whether in the first movement, in which the clarinet trillingly wove its way around some eerily high-register synthesizer writing, or in the finale, which for all its fragmentation does bring the solo writing to a boiling point, ending in a virtuoso flourish.
To my way of thinking an encore of the "Allegories" was not justified. But one that was was Wheeler's "Pseudo-Rag for G.S.," "a kind of 60th-birthday present" for his colleague Gunther Schuller. Cleverly recalling everything from Joplin's "The Entertainer" to the Beatles' "When I'm 64," it also reminded us of something else: Sometimes composers composing for composers can be fun.