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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Shaw, Williams, Anderson: Substance at Festival of Contemporary Music

Shaw, Williams, Anderson: Substance at Festival of Contemporary Music

 Léon Bernsdorf and Elizabeth Dorman perform Amy Williams's Abstract Art 1 and 2 in Ozawa Hall, Saturday, Aug. 12, as part of the Festival of Contemporary Music. Hilary Scott photograph

Léon Bernsdorf and Elizabeth Dorman perform Amy Williams's Abstract Art 1 and 2 in Ozawa Hall, Saturday, Aug. 12, as part of the Festival of Contemporary Music. Hilary Scott photograph

The third in a series of short reviews of the Festival of Contemporary Music, ongoing at Tanglewood (Aug. 10–14). A summary review will appear at the conclusion of the festival at Classical Voice North America (classicalvoiceamerica.org).

Some of the most substantial music thus far of the Festival of Contemporary Music came at Saturday’s prelude concert in Ozawa Hall. Tanglewood Music Center fellows performed compositions by Caroline Shaw, Amy Williams and Julian Anderson.

Shaw’s string quartet, “Blueprint,” draws its structure from Beethoven and its inspiration from the history of Prussian Blue (the color). Those details recede upon listening. 

An extended, repeated opening—one note duplicated, a paired figure that starts and stops, bowed and pizzicato—leads to a more formal sounding ensemble section. Active interplay—this could be transformed into the dance movement of a complete quartet—characterizes the sound. The repeated figure returns, from time to time. The end comes with humor, and easy style.

The movement sounds like lots of other music, and like nothing else. The ensemble section has active harmonies, thoughtful interplay. Its references are classical, its appeal modern.

Amy Williams’s “Abstract Art 1 and 2” are written for overlapping pianists. Or for four-hands on the piano. Not for two pianists sitting side by side. Even though they did.

Elizabeth Dorman occupied the treble end, but Léon Bernsdorf spent quite a bit of time there too. And they both spent quite a bit of time in the middle of the keyboard, intertwined, as well. 

It wasn’t about gymnastics though, it was about musical possibilities of doubling the available fingers. The two works are brief: the first “Abstract” was really scales, playful and tuneful. The second brought an entirely different mood, chordal, sometimes dissonant, tempos slower, luxuriant in its reach. All of the music evoked deep possibilities for this approach—four hands in search of some music.

Julian Anderson’s “Van Gogh Blue” created its own evocative moods with a larger ensemble: an octet with strings, clarinets, harp, flute/piccolo and piano. Stephen Drury conducted.

Its five brief movements evoke places from Van Gogh’s life (a study of the artist’s letters began the inspiration). All of them have distinct character, but the spectral wash of sound fills each one. 

Antiphony plays its part. Most of the solo writing came for clarinetists—Sean Krissman (doubling on E-flat) and Matthew Griffith (doubling bass clarinet). Anderson set them to the side of the half-circle ensemble at times, at the back of Ozawa Hall at other times, and in the balcony for the concluding movement.

Stephen Drury conducted. The only shame with this piece is that this unusual instrumentation will probably not be duplicated often enough. 

The Festival of Contemporary Music continues Sunday morning in Ozawa Hall, a concert curated by Nadia Sirota. Music from David Lang, Marcos Balter, Thomas Adès, Nico Muhly and Donnacha Dennehy.

Good morning Tanglewood.

Good morning Tanglewood.

Festival of Contemporary Music, at Tanglewood. Aug. 11, 2017

Festival of Contemporary Music, at Tanglewood. Aug. 11, 2017