An introduction to Ziporyn in Rockport

By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / July 8, 2011

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ROCKPORT - Cambridge-based composer Evan Ziporyn has always kept his ears open to popular and non-Western traditions. You might describe his music as living in some imagined juncture between uptown, downtown, and way out of town. Local concert-goers who travel outside the city’s rather tight new music scene, however, have not always had many opportunities to get to know his music.

It’s in that spirit that an all-Ziporyn program last night at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival was welcome news for all parties. Rockport needs exploratory evenings like this one to confirm its expanded reach and ambitions, and Ziporyn’s music, at once brainy and visceral, deserves a wider audience in his own hometown. Last night’s program offered a nice tasting menu of some of his musical interests outside the world of Balinese gamelan to which he has been increasingly drawn.

The first selection, “Tsmindao Ghmerto,’’ a solo work he wrote for himself, stemmed from his genially quixotic notion that he could take a piece of medieval Georgian sacred music for men’s chorus and try to imitate it precisely on his bass clarinet. The attempt pushed him toward a short piece in which gently rocking lines are delivered through clouds of pulsing multiphonics.

“In Bounds’’ for solo piano and “Typical Music’’ for piano trio both find Ziporyn staying closer to his post-minimalist home base. The former work, full of ceaseless scampering and complex rhythmic patterns, gave pianist Vicky Chow a vigorous workout to which she was more than equal. For the latter, again driven by funky knotted rhythms and repeated figuration, Chow was joined by violinist Todd Reynolds and cellist Ashley Bathgate, both excellent.

But by far the work that made the strongest impression was “Hive,’’ an earthy and wonderfully imaginative clarinet quartet whose title and general dramatic arc was inspired by Ziporyn’s close observation of bees. (He is also a beekeeper.) Buzzing dronelike figures are the piece’s building blocks, intensely volleyed at the outset. At one point, the whole hive seems to throw a party that sounded a bit like Sidney Bechet dreaming of the Mendelssohn Octet. And the piece ends on an inward and soulful note. Rane Moore, Eran Egozy, and Alicia Lee expertly joined Ziporyn, who led them unobtrusively from within.

Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, the first name of clarinetist Alicia Lee was misspelled in an earlier version of this review.

“THE MUSIC OF EVAN ZIPORYN’’ Friends from Bang on a Can

Rockport Chamber Music Festival

At: Shalin Liu Performance Center, last night