At This New-Music Festival, You Can Count on Variety

At This New-Music Festival, You Can Count on Variety


It’s often useful to prepare for a concert by checking out past recordings by a composer or ensemble. But it can also be fun to attend a show blind, with no informational baggage.

On Tuesday, I took the unprepared route to a concert by the Bozzini Quartet, the first installment of this year’s Time Spans festival, which runs through Saturday at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Manhattan. I came out of the show a proselytizing convert to the music of Linda Catlin Smith.

Her string quartet “Folkestone” (1999) quickly revealed points of affinity with other music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries — including the patient thematic unfolding of Morton Feldman, as well as the quiet dynamics familiar to composers of the Wandelweiser collective.

Yet almost as quickly, “Folkestone” made me forget those sonic signposts; my focus shifted to the polished clarity of Ms. Smith’s compositional intentions. Inspired by a book of watercolors, “Folkestone” has 24 “panels.” Each seemed finely wrought, such as an early one in which a short stretch of canonic layering suavely morphed into a Minimalist pulse before dissolving into a series of strangely harmonized sighs.

The work never rose above a generally hushed volume, but its contrasts rang with real force. (It stuck in the memory, too, and compelled me to purchase two of Ms. Smith’s impressive recent albums — “Drifter” and “Wanderer” — from the imprint Another Timbre.) The Bozzini Quartet played this delicately intense music with subtle aggression, an approach that worked equally well for Cassandra Miller’s “About Bach,” a work that hitches its references to Bach’s great Chaconne to some high-pitched violin parts that sounded as though sung through clenched teeth.

As with the memorable edition of the Time Spans Festival in 2017, this year’s series, presented by the Earle Brown Music Foundation, followed no particular aesthetic. By taking in multiple concerts, you’re guaranteed a good smattering of contemporary styles — and, almost certainly, some works that seem comparatively thin. Wednesday’s concert, by the often compelling ensemble Alarm Will Sound, was devoted to new compositions that seemed undercooked.

I often love Alex Mincek’s music, whether he’s stirring a chamber ensemble into hyperkinetic activity or working with the extended ranges of instruments. But an excerpt from a planned evening-length work, “Chimeras,” belabored its use of an electronic element: a piped-in vocal part which “spoke” with an automated phone-operator’s voice (before being chopped into less intelligible fragments). A stark seriousness of mood came through, but not enough of Mr. Mincek’s florid instrumental imagination — which meant that the Alarm Will Sound players were too often sidelined.

“The Intention” was a collaboration between the composers Chris Stark and King Britt, who joined Alarm Will Sound on electronics. This piece also struggled to make the most of its ingredients, with the occasional interjection of Mr. Britt’s samples — or a stretch of hip-hop-influenced percussion — coming and going without leaving much impact on the other players’ parts. The most persuasive performance on Wednesday was of Zosha Di Castri’s whirlwind “Phonotopographie” — a piece that opened with fast riffs in the winds and eventually carried Alarm Will Sound out the doors of the hall, after a short parade through the aisles.

The Talea Ensemble played two similarly energetic pieces, by the composers Felipe Lara and Oscar Bettison, on Thursday. Mr. Lara’s “Fringes” featured groups of players bordering the audience on three sides. The work throbbed throughout its duration, more than 20 minutes, by dealing out a steady stream of quick accelerations, motivic pileups and eerie pauses haunted by experimental effects. (In a post-performance question-and-answer session, Mr. Lara said he was trying to exploit zones where “timbre becomes harmony,” and harmony, in turn, becomes “noise.”)

Mr. Bettison’s three-movement “Livre des Sauvages” had a consciously madcap air reminiscent of John Adams’s Chamber Symphony. But instead of Mr. Adams’s concert-music vision of Schoenberg, mixed with tunes of what he has called “good cartoons,” Mr. Bettison sounded as though influenced by songs improvised by children on some sugar-strewn playground. The work was willfully wild in its asymmetric repetitions — and at times seemed to delight in the possibility of becoming obnoxious — but was also hard not to love for its headbanging inventiveness. (The arrangement’s vitality brought out some astonishing playing from the ensemble, too.)

The final Time Spans concert, on Saturday, brings the JACK Quartet together with live electronics, supervised by members of the SWR Experimentalstudio of Freiburg, Germany. Even though Mr. Lara has another piece on this program — alongside works by Sabrina Schroeder and Georg Friedrich Haas — the result will probably sound little like anything else from this week’s concerts. After all, what makes this festival valuable is its reliable variety.

Time Spans
Through Saturday at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, Manhattan; timespans.org.



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