Frances Thompson McKay has filled a number of important roles in the musical life of this city, as a teacher, as a producer of concerts of contemporary music and as a prolific composer. The Contemporary Music Forum presented a program of six of her works at the Corcoran Gallery on Thursday, a courageous undertaking for both the performers and the composer.
McKay demands a great deal of her performers, both technically and musically. Her compositions are studies in textures and rhythms. She has an ear for interesting color and she uses material brilliantly and subtly but always economically. Lyricism is not high on her agenda but she is able to craft lovely short melodic motifs that are distinctive enough to hold a whole piece together. The artists of the Contemporary Music Forum did her proud.
The Washington Post,Saturday, May 11, 2002
A Critical Mass
“At this point, peace may be the only road to survival on this planet,” Washington composer Frances Thompson McKay says in a program note to her oratorio, “A Critical Mass.” This complex, powerful work. . . is a protest against a world in which the United States spends billions on its nuclear arsenal while thousands of people die each day of hunger.
. . .members of the audience simultaneously read segments of [Thomas Merton’s Prayer for Peace]. No words emerged clearly. . . but the impression of humanity yearning for a better world was overwhelming.
Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post, 2004
This ambitious work employs dissonance, changing meters, masterly vocal arrangements, taped sounds and silence to communicate McKay’sevocative, sometimes provocative ideas.
J. Kenneth Townsend, The Washington Post, 1989
The audience had no choice but to be affected by the mass. . . gripping in its portrayal of human frailties, the score fraught with emotional conflict . . . music of quiet desolation. …stately and chaotic, as if hinting at the incredulity of allowing such events to occur.
Norman Middleton, The Washington Post, 1986
An amorphous choral piece that writhes and meanders and surges forward and laps back on itself as a river might, and it is layered with harmonic currents that flow arbitrarily…. The performances was appropriately powerful and enveloping. . . the work itself is bold arresting, and intelligently made.
Ronald Brown, The Washington Post , 2002
Take the Wings of the Morning To the Uttermost Parts of the Sea
A marvelously mobile arioso heavily and intricately scored for solo cello, the scores thins to a lonely, affirmative utterance that transfigures the Latinate dance materials that it comprises. . . McKay’s monody surged and soared.
Mark Adamo, The Washington Post
The music is a parade of all the wispy sounds you can imagine.
Paul Hume, The Washington Post, 1980
Rites of Passage
Compelling, richly textured varied theme. . .a broad variety of descriptive, meditative, imaginative and even jazzy styles. . . It left the audience enthusiastic and ready for more.
Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post, 1988
Elegy in the Form of a Dream
Dana Franchitto, The Cape Codder, 1984
Expressionistic fantasy music, filled with strange rappings, thrumming inside the piano, all manner of unexpected sounds designed to stimulate the imagination of the listener
Dika Newlin, The Richmond Times Dispatch, 1984
Manipulated sound and unusual structure marked McKay’s Elegy. Her programmatic composition unwound like a perpetual slow-motion machine, an aural “This is your life” with the requisite memories and pain.
J. Kenneth Townsend, The Washington Post, 1978
It had the audience singing “We Shall Overcome” in its central movement—a moment of hushed magic in the darkened church.
Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post, 1987
Outstanding. . . beautifully evocative. . . sound remarkable sounds
Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post, 1983
An essentially evocative moment came when [Katherine] Hay blew into a giant conch shell
Dika Newlin, The Richmond Times Dispatch, 1983
Mostly it exercised the flute’s gift for simple song, but sometimes it calls for special effects, including production of more than one note at a time or the sound of wind in vast, open spaces.
Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post