Contempo provides sterling advocacy for new works by young composers
A capacity audience packed tiny Fulton Hall on the University of Chicago campus Friday night for the performance by two legendary institutions of contemporary music—the eclectic Chicago-based sextet eighth blackbird and the enterprising Pacifica Quartet, currently centered in Bloomington Indiana.
Both ensembles were on fine form as they performed three pieces newly written by U of C composition students. The concert confirmed yet again that whatever these artists play they always play well.
The concert in UC’s Contempo series was titled “Tomorrow’s Music Today” and led off with the brief but intense Aldebaran by Yuan-Chen Li. The music was perfectly tailored for the instrumental makeup of eighth blackbird. Their instruments were pushed to the limits and clangorous chords from piano and bells, and marimba touches played against the sound of strings created an unrelenting forward momentum. The piece was over almost before it began, but made an invigorating impression.
Longer but equally aggressive was Migla Atmina (fog memory) by Katherine Pukinskis. Migla Atmina provided varied opportunities for superb playing especially from flutist Tim Munro but also from the dynamic piano of Lisa Kaplan, the solid cello of Nicholas Photinos and other solo turns from violin and clarinet. The main effect was hard-driving aggression with interludes of relaxation.
Spandrels by Phil Taylor was more extended and more formally interesting. It is divided into three parts, recreating in musical structure the definition the composer gives of the architectural concept of spandrels: “spaces defined by the frames surrounding them.”
A pair of outer movements was marked by a fruitful interplay between the string quartet and the array of percussion instruments under the hand of eighth blackbird’s Douglas Perkins. The inner movement was performed superbly by the Pacifica (with the substitution of violinist Timothy Kantor for Sibbi Bernhardsson) without percussion. This section opens gently, but covers a wide range of dynamics and harmony.
From the delicate marimba tones of the work’s opening onward we find ourselves in a different sound world to that of the preceding music. The score is both modernist and romantic in tone displaying throughout the performance complex rhythms, rapid passagework and tonal purity as well as superb ensemble. The audience was duly appreciative.
For all that, Taylor’s piece could have benefitted from some trimming and focus, yet it was by far the longest and most rewarding segment of a short but substantial evening of new music.
Contempo will present the second program of “Tomorrow’s Music Today” May 17. contempo.uchicago.edu
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