The last Music in Time concert of this Spoleto Festival, titled “In a Spring Garden,” featured five recent solo and chamber works of varied stylistic directions.
The smaller pieces (one solo, one duet and one solo with fixed media accompaniment) were notably more active, gesture-driven, adventurous and virtuosic in nature, in contrast with the still, introspective string quartet by Missy Mazzoli that opened the concert and the ecologically driven “Im Fruhlingsgarten” by Toshio Hosokawa, composer of the opera “Matsukaze,” that closed it.
“Death Valley Junction,” a short, cohesive, slightly ambient string quartet in one movement by Mazzoli was transformed desert images into a texture of pulsating harmonics, slides and the occasional diatonic fragments passing through the ensemble over an open interval, quasi-diatonic harmonic bed.
The stillness of the piece fit the concept nicely, and succeeded in creating an atmosphere with few, tightly controlled elements, in temporal and formal proportions that worked well.
George Nickson, a formidable percussionist to watch out for, took the stage for the next two works on the program: “Cadernos,” a solo vibraphone piece in three short movements by Andreia Pinto-Correia, infused with jazz-inspired harmonies and dynamic contrasts, and “Hop,” a duet for violin and marimba by Princeton University veteran Paul Lansky.
“Hop” is characteristic of Lansky’s ability to bend genres and styles with gusto and elegance. The marimba part (written for a five-octave instrument) provided a constant, active moto perpetuo accompaniment that explored the soft velvety low register, against which the violin floated in bluesy, chromatic cross-string lines.
The diametrically opposed timbres of the two instruments would come together in a pointillistic ritornello of pizzicati and soft-staccato marimba (once even played with fingers instead of mallets), which opened and closed the piece. Violinist Samantha Bennett proved a perfect match to Nickson’s energy and musicality.
Originally scheduled second in the program, Gleb Kanasevich’s “Variative. Derivative. Exploitative…” for clarinet and fixed electronic sound, ended up being performed as the penultimate piece, due to a laptop malfunction the first time around. Once it was working, Kanasevich’s MacBook provided prepared accompaniment for the extremely virtuosic clarinet part, performed by the composer himself.
An angular, edgy, high-energy symbiosis between human and technology, the piece worked best when the electronics were generated from clarinet sound sources, and less so elsewhere. Kanasevich delivered a jaw-dropping performance, with acrobatically wide register runs, multiphonics and growling through the instrument, and a few near-impossible feats of synchronization with the electronic sounds.
“Im Fruhlingsgarten,” for nine winds and strings by Toshio Hosokawa closed the concert in a quiet, meditative manner. An Eastern look at a spring garden, the piece opened with a flute solo giving way to soft consonant chords from the ensemble. An occasional bass pizzicato was the only articulation, until a variety of bird calls were introduced, only to fade back to the soft harmonies that eventually settled into a final A major chord that slowly slipped into silence.
Yiorgos Vassilandonakis is a composer and professor of music at the College of Charleston.