Ensemble highlights new music

In its third concert, the new music series Magnetic South made the leap to present music written exclusively in our adolescent century. Friday night in the College of Charleston’s Simons Center Recital Hall, an ensemble of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s section chairs performed “Echoes of Antiquity,” the oldest piece, written in 2006.

Magnetic South is a collaboration between the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the College of Charleston Music Department, formed in the beginning of 2012 to provide Charleston with a complete classical music culture, featuring works from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Despite the youth of the first piece, Francis Kayali’s “Croquis du Nil” (Sketches of the Nile) casts six vignettes of Egypt’s river, as encountered through 19th century eyes in distinctly un-Egyptian ways.

The opening waltz positions the ear in the West, with each following sketch presenting a different tourist’s outing near the Nile. Much of this music stimulates the listener with an array of methods sounding simultaneously

Kayali added “Dahabiehs” as a fifth movement to the 2007 edition, and Friday night was its premiere performance. Opening with winding violin melodies, the new movement illustrates sailboats used to visit Egypt until the mid-20th century.

The sail’s impetus is heard in the airy, puffy texture, and the asymmetrical meter represents the water’s lilt. Throughout the piece, the texture successfully creates an exploratory experience, ending dramatically with a movement P.T. Barnum might have used to accompany a sideshow oddity.

George Tsontakis’s “Gymnopedies” includes four movements with atmospheric descriptions. The first three, “Magical,” “Cascades” and “Glistening,” were foggy and dream-like pieces with textural tiers.

The final movement, “Bratty,” was chaotic and insistent, lapsing from urgency to a calm, Glassian churn in the piano and harp.

The vocal timbre thickened the ensemble in Bernard Rands’ “now again” fragments of Sappho. The texts come from Sappho’s fragmented poetry, but the composer supplied contextual meaning. Sappho was sung by soprano Deanna McBroom, director of the voice program at the College of Charleston.

The objects of her desire were a second and third soprano, sung by Claire Elich and Ashley Fabian.

The evening ended with the world premiere of Nickitas Demos’ “Beautiful Kingdoms.” In three movements, Demos represented the three stages of life, defined in his mother’s death — a struggle of joy and sorrow during earthly time; a placid Byzantine hymn used in Greek Orthodox funerals; and the “new kingdom” in which reunion will take place.

These musicians are eager and capable, working with conductor Yiorgos Vassilandonakis to support new music. This series is a welcome and much-needed acknowledgement of the music written in our lifetime.

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