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Ensemble dances around the world

CAMBRIDGE -- Susan Davenny Wyner, music director of the New England String Ensemble, belongs to the small and exclusive club of the best program makers in town. In her concerts, pieces always sound good together, interact in interesting ways, and add up to a statement.

Most of Sunday's program by the New England String Ensemble was music about rhythm, forward motion, and dancing; Wyner chose dance music from three centuries and six countries.

At the center was a world premiere, "The Creation According to Orpheus" by Martin Pearlman -- yes, the same Martin Pearlman who is founder and music director of Boston Baroque. He was trained as a composer as well as a performer. Technically speaking, his new piece is a concerto grosso, with a small ensemble of piano (Evan Hirsch), harp (Barbara Poeschl-Edrich), and percussion (Robert Shultz) standing apart from the larger surrounding body of strings. This formal device is the only bow Pearlman made to his career in early music -- his piece is thoroughly contemporary in idiom. Most of the music is a shimmer of sound created by countless tiny details, like a pointillist painting by Seurat; it is a sound teeming with potential. At the end, the music pecks its way out of the egg and takes flight; the universe is created in a blinding radiance that doesn't answer every question.

The program also introduced two young winners of competitions sponsored by the string ensemble. Flutist Emi Ferguson, an 11th-grader at the Winsor School, kept her sea legs during Vivaldi's "Tempest" Concerto, riding the storm with aplomb and tonal bloom. Tema Watstein, a 10th-grader from Hartford, played the recent Partita for violin and string orchestra by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, a chipper four-movement exercise in craftsmanlike neoclassicism. Watstein boasts an enviably forceful and accurate technique, but she was always formidable in music that sometimes wanted to smile, charm, wink, and flirt.

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