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12/20 CONTACT! New Music Series @ The Metropolitan Museum Auditorium

Magnus Lindberg-Conductor

Game of Attrition-Arlene Sierra

Verge- Lei Liang

Melodia- Marc-André Dalbavie

Macunaíma- Arthur Kampela

It’s not often that one can say they saw the Upper East Side premier of 4 new works, but on Saturday that was the case. I attended the second performance of the New York Philharmonic’s offshore new music series, Contact!, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s auditorium. The works were given their world première on Thursday at the Upper West Side’s Symphony Space. While the format of the concert was a little rough, and some of the premieres were disappointing, I think the series has the potential to grow into a respected and exciting outlet for new music.

The format of the concert was a short interview with the composer of each piece followed by a performance. This gave the concert a more intimate feel as well as a providing some guide to the pieces, some of which might have been inexplicable without it. However, it would be greatly augmented if short musical passages to emphasize the composer’s points could be added beyond the miniscule one that was played. If the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert want to bring new music to “the common man”, and I believe they do, explanations should use vocabulary the common man can understand. To throw out a term like “spectral music” or to talk about the chords that certain pitches form without playing those chords are examples of the over complication that scares many people away from modern music. The concert is about finding a contact point, not intimidation.

The most of interesting of the pieces was Lei Liang’s Verge, for 4 string quartets and 2 double basses, written the month before and after his son Albert’s birth. The players were arranged in a semicircle and were grouped into different ensembles throughout the piece, giving an interesting shifting effect as well as broadening the orchestration, not limiting it to one traditional group.

Arlene Sierra’s Game of Attrition deserves a second listen-her introduction described the piece as an evolution of melodic cells and “games” played out between instruments, but I struggled to hear this idea. However, the idea intrigues me, and the thorny sound of the music fit that of a competition.

Dalbavie’s  piece was uninteresting and not particularly original. It was based on a Gregorian chant, but sounded more like a summary of French music of the past 100 years. I would rather have heard Ravel.

I was most excited about Arthur Kampela’s piece after his dynamic introduction, so its bad cliches made it the biggest disappointment. Kampela explained that one of his composing methods was to give talented players other instruments to work with. Why, when you have talented musicians of the caliber of those in the New York Philharmonic, would you give them percussion instruments that 6th graders have mastered? A harp player is not going to bring new subtleties to the Thunder Tube. The piece ran far too long for what ended up being almost a parody of modern music.

Although not all the pieces were pleasing, I did enjoy the chance to “contact” with a cross-section of what is going on in new composition.

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