LENOX -- In each of the past several summers, the young composition fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center have undertaken an interdisciplinary project, collaborating with choreographers or theater artists or working with John Williams on the craft of film scoring.
This summer's project, coordinated by Boston/New England Conservatory composer Michael Gandolfi, matched the composers with young independent filmmakers. The filmmakers came to Tanglewood for two weeks of intense work with the composers, followed by three weeks of long-distance collaboration and an unusual event in the Tanglewood Theatre on Saturday night -- the screening of 11 short films with brand-new music, played live by a splendid chamber ensemble of Tanglewood Music Center instrumentalists.
The films mostly had no narrative, and there was perhaps too much emphasis on images of leaves, grass, and water, with corresponding nature music flowing and twittering; some of the collaborations were really too short to accumulate any impact.
But Pamela Larson's films do direct our attention to minute natural wonders that we are often too busy to notice, and a film following a small fish through blue waters became magical with the addition of Joshua Penman's luminously mysterious score for cello and electronics.
The films and images by Luke Batten and Jonathan Sadler of Chicago's New Catalogue are amusing and unsettling, and so is the music Joshua Feltman and Judd Samuels Greenstein found for them. A young woman, formally dressed, stands on a diving board, holding a sparkler that burns out -- we think of the Statue of Liberty, and metaphor. And Feltman provides elegant music in a playful crossover style, a reimagining of the Poulenc manner.
Grace Choi created contrasting music for Larson's images of floating clouds and for Cliff Evans's disassociated "Dismember," the screen full of fragmentary images, the music a spooky, minimalistic perpetual motion.
The longest films gave the most opportunity for development. Evans's "Fairy Tale" explores archetypal ritual and terror in rough, grainy images; Emily Hall's music doesn't attempt to mirror the images but catches every undercurrent. Perhaps the most remarkable was Adaleta Maslo-Krkovic's luminous work in progress, "Searching."
In it, the textures and eddies of watery surfaces look like silk and mother-of-pearl; from the depths emerge mysterious images, like the outline of a submarine. Marcin Bela's music is cool, pretty, restless; something like the waltz from Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" is deconstructed.
In a conversation beforehand, Gandolfi likened the process of scoring a film to that of a composer setting a poem in an art song. Both music and text retain independent interest and both are on equal footing, but together they become something different. The best of these collaborations did just that -- the music helped you watch more attentively, and the films led the ear into the music.
Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music
At: Tanglewood Theatre, Saturday night