This is a guest review by Andy Jurik
The winner of last year’s GFA competition in Texas, Johannes Möller’s performance in Columbus, Georgia was in anticipation of his upcoming tour booked in conjunction with his victory. Unlike most winners of past GFA conventions, however, Möller presents a program comprised in great part of his own compositions. More than a vanity project, his music has already been compiled for an album release, as well as publication by Les Productions d’Oz. Judging from the balance of repertoire in his program, Möller appears ready to present himself as a self-sufficient artist.
Opening his concert with Song to the Mother Möller expressed a decidedly tonal side of his work. While thick with modern space and atmosphere, the work retained diatonic and folk-styled elements, leaning more towards accessibility while still retaining contemporary sensibilities and phrasing. Moments of serenity were balanced with rhapsodic gestures, all the while conveyed with a very purposeful, lyrical touch. Brave in introducing his concert with his own composition, he displayed honest extensions of his musical personality as opposed to flagrant showmanship.
Möller’s next two pieces were the only ones in the program he did not compose, a momentary detour into his facility as strictly an interpreter. Lamento-Scherzo by Denis Gougeon was the set piece from last year’s competition, and Möller’s performance conveyed the meaning he still finds in the material rather well. Much like his opening number, his control of the music’s modern atmosphere was virtuosic in its sparseness and feel, characterized by a fluid touch and delicate contrasts of color. Perhaps the least accessible work on his program, Möller did his best to give gesture and shape to the agitated moments of the scherzo section.
Sueño en la Floresta by Agustin Barrios followed, introduced with his anecdote of hearing the piece performed in Buenos Aires and being captivated with the idea that Barrios composed the piece while longing for the comfort of his homeland. For such a lush, romantic piece Möller seemed a bit restrained as he eschewed rubato for a more regulated sense of pulse. Nonetheless, his steady control and touch well complimented the music’s personality. The only non-modern piece on the program, his performance seemed to reflect his fascination and respect for the music rather than a mastery of toying with his musical options.
Poem to a Distant Fire followed, returning to his graceful modern sensibilities as a composer. Inspired by the image of trees encircled by surrounding fog in his native Sweden, Poem challenged the audience with its excessive silence and stillness, both evocative and ambiguous. Rather impressionistic, the piece was saturated with a calm accessibility throughout the balanced peaceful and chaotic moments. Currently available on his Naxos cd, Poem will serve as a calling card to his musical sensibilities.
Closing his concert was Ananda, a Sanskrit word equating to “universal love.” A deeply Indian/Raga flavor drove the music, featuring exotic lines slinking underneath a growling drone. The soft-aggressive-soft flow of the modern compositions became a theme throughout his performance, yet it cannot be denied that Möller has discovered a programmatic format that works well for his abilities. His taste clearly focuses towards modern works, and while some may find this narrow-minded, it’s an undeniable fact that Möller has found his trademark as a young concert artist.
Möller is in a unique position. His success as a musician is tied with his prowess as a serious composer, and his upcoming tour will promote his career as an all-inclusive artist. Modern yet still accessible, Möller’s display of innovation and interpretation were bold and refreshing to see in a GFA competition winner on the cusp of a promising career.