ACM closes season with edgy scenes from 21st-century life

Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

By Wynne Delacoma

Any Wurtz’s “Ekhlas (Pure)” was among the works performed by ACM Friday night at Ganz Hall.

The days when a contemporary chamber music concert meant large helpings of harsh dissonance and ear-splitting decibel levels are long gone. Access Contemporary Music persuasively drove that point home Friday night in Ganz Hall with a program titled “The Best of Weekly Readings.”

Over the past eight years, ACM has asked composers to submit pieces that have never been performed. Every week or so, Palomar, ACM’s resident ensemble, would read through one of the works, recording the session and giving the composer a chance to hear what the music actually sounded like. For Friday’s concert ACM founder, Seth Boustead, and his gifted young musicians returned to five of their favorites among the more than 200 submitted works.

A sense of 21st-century life—slightly edgy, slightly dark—ran like a faint electric current through the short pieces by David Heuser, Benedikt Brydern, Aaron Alon, Stephen Cohn and Amy Wurtz. There was plenty of dissonance, but it was subtle, adding sparkle to the often childlike sweetness of Brydern’s Homecoming for violin, clarinet and piano or a sense of wintry desolation to the long, sustained lines of Alon’s Spell for violin and two cellos. Even when dissonance erupted with sudden force, as in the crashing piano chords and sharp, tensile strokes from the strings in Heuser’s Catching Updrafts for violin, cello, clarinet and piano, it was part of the overall musical color, not the main focus.

Though the program’s final work, Wurtz’s Ekhlas (Pure) for clarinet, piano and percussion, bristled with infectious rhythms, the overall mood in most of the pieces was meditative. Cohn’s Anticipation of Light for violin, cello and piano offered a serene interplay of individual voices. Violinist Jeff Yang, extraordinarily expressive throughout the concert, cellist Alyson Berger and Wurtz at the piano repeatedly drifted away from each other, spinning off into seemingly improvisational flights, before reuniting.

Brydern’s Homecoming was also full of arrivals and departures, moving easily from introspective moments to episodes with a strong tango sway or a hint of sinewy stride piano rhythms.

These were inventive pieces, full of rich color and gritty edges, gentle light and dark shadows, each one clearly designed to communicate with an audience. None of the five composers seemed interested in dazzling us with fancy compositional footwork or shocking us with gratuitous noise. It was a pleasure to make their acquaintance.

Friday’s concert closed ACM’s 2011-12 season, and next season will include performances at a new venue, the atrium of the sprawling Architectural Artifacts store in Ravenswood.  The group’s free annual Composer Alive event will be held at 10 p.m. July 22 at the Zhou B. Art Center in Bridgeport. On Aug. 11 Boustead will broadcast his weekly radio show, Relevant Tones, heard at 5 p.m. Saturdays on WFMT, live from the Empty Bottle in Ukrainian Village. Groups on hand will include the Spektral Quartet.

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