By Lawrence Budmen

The Miami based composer Maurice Gardner was a highly prolific creative artist. By the time of his death in February, 2002 at age 93, he had written several hundred works. While many of his scores were composed for movies and television, his compositional output included numerous works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, chorus, and orchestra. Gardner had a unique, individual creative voice. While he was influenced by his Jewish roots, Hungarian background, and the New York cultural scene, his music does not sound like the work of any other composer. On September 24, 2002 at the Hale Yamaha Concert Hall in Coral Gables, Gardner's musical legacy was celebrated at a memorial concert.

The three Gardner scores that were performed each had an individual creative profile. "Canticle for Two Cellos and Piano" (1991) is a deeply felt work that is based on Hebraic musical modes. At times highly agitated, at others quietly serene, the music is comparable to the work of Ernest Bloch, but in a more classical, restrained manner. Cellists Sharon Robinson (of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio) and Keith Robinson (of the Miami String Quartet) and pianist Jodie DeSalvo (a faculty member at the FIU School of Music) gave an impassioned performance that was replete with expressive nuance.

A movement from the "Sonata No. 4 for Viola and Piano" (1984) found the composer on an adventurous, experimental journey. The writing for the viola (which Gardner played for many years) was breathtakingly difficult - requiring absolute control in the instrument's upper register. The music flirts with tonal ambiguity without ever embracing atonality. This is music that takes long paths of creative space rather than short melodic cells. It is a work of uncompromising musical austerity and harmonic complexity. Violist Masumi Rostad (of the Pacifica String Quartet) and Ms. DeSalvo gave a performance that was marked by its intensity of utterance - a virtuosic tour de force.

The second part of the "String Quartet No. 5 - Cantus Hungaricus" (2002) is music of rhapsodic Eastern European Magyar exotica viewed through a cerebral American compositional lens. Folk elements are interrupted by astringent harmonies and dissonant chords that break the rhythmic impetus and lead to a clamorous, unrestrained conclusion. The Chicago based Pacifica String Quartet (who originally commissioned the score) gave a brilliant, high spirited performance that did not neglect the work's subtle, lyrical moments.

The Pacifica Quartet also played the serene Adagio from Schumann's "String Quartet in A Minor" with rapt, expressive beauty. The concert concluded with the sublime Adagio from Schubert's "Quintet for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Cellos." The superlative musicians of the Miami String Quartet, joined by Ms. Robinson, played this song filled, lyrical movement with overwhelming beauty of expression - a tribute to Gardner who had written five works for the quartet.

When a creative artist passes away, there is a very real danger that his work will disappear and be forgotten. The artists at this memorial concert gave eloquent musical testimony to Maurice Gardner's original creative voice and to the importance of keeping his music alive! 

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