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Jay Alan Yim

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JAY ALAN YIM

Like a lot of American composers who grew up in the 60s and 70s, Jay Alan Yim tries to reconcile influences of high art and pop culture. Yim, who wears a ponytail and admires the likes of Gastr del Sol, is also a Harvard PhD with a tenured position on Northwestern's composition faculty; he's won a Guggenheim that paid for a yearlong stay in Amsterdam, an outpost of the cool, cerebral European avant-garde contingent with which he's allied. Now he's been granted another approving kiss by the establishment--a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that will be given its first performances this week in the CSO's subscription concerts. Titled Rough Magic, this 17-minute orchestral overture is intended as the front panel of a large-scale triptych that also includes a work completed in the mid-80s and another still on the drawing board. Though the title is taken from one of Prospero's monologues in The Tempest--definitely a high-art gesture--the piece has little to do with the play; rather, Yim says, it originated with a "massive series of dense chords" that came to mind one day as he was driving past the Sandia Mountains while on sabbatical in New Mexico. The 11-part score loosely follows the orderly, repetitive patterns of the music of the Akan and Mbuti tribes in central Africa, which can sound deceptively disorderly and spontaneous. "Method in the madness" could be a motto for the Yim chamber works I've heard as well; their spare, subtly shifting, and sometimes crazy-quilt textures are undergirded, if one cares to look deeper, by a lucid, logical foundation--an intellectual sleight-of-hand he learned from his Harvard prof Earl Kim, among others. Yim is also fond of mathematical schemes and neomedieval polyphony--he professes to like the works of Xenakis, Takemitsu, Lutoslawski, and Nancarrow--and he seems to embrace the Boulez school of musical collage. One feature to look for in Rough Magic is echoes emanating from opposite ends of the orchestra, an homage to the ping-pong effect Gabrieli achieved in Venice's Saint Mark's Cathedral. Also on the CSO bill are Schumann's Piano Concerto (with soloist and Barenboim pal Radu Lupu) and Tchaikovsky's Symphony no 4. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bill Arsenault.

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