ROCKPORT -- New music has been part of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival's agenda from the beginning, 24 seasons ago. The festival's devoted public has learned to enjoy the unfamiliar, too; there was a full house on a sweltering Sunday afternoon for a concert celebrating the 75th birthday of composer/pianist Yeuhdi Wyner.
Two of Wyner's works were paired with two of Mozart's. Wyner's ''Horntrio" (1997) has become one of his most popular pieces. Wyner's music mediates between high culture and the harmonies and rhythmic energies of jazz and the classic American pop song. The piece is unfailingly inventive and full of surprises so carefully prepared they appear inevitable; the sultry slow movement is gorgeous. It requires three omnicompetent and fearless players, and it found them in Jean Rife (horn), who arranged the commission of the piece; Bayla Keyes (violin); and the composer at the piano.
''Commedia" (2002) is a more recent work, written for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and pianist Emanuel Ax. The title comes from Dante's ''Divine Comedy," which means comedy is only one aspect of a wide-ranging, even cosmic, vision. The center of the piece is a long, slow movement -- yearning, fluctuating, passionate, and sad. Stoltzman got off to a rough, false start, uttered an expletive, and began again, ''like a bat out of hell," as the score directs. Wyner exploits the unique dynamic, coloristic, and emotional range Stoltzman brings to the clarinet, and the piano part is the creation of a man who is a master of the instrument -- as he displayed in the performance.
Keyes and violist Marcus Thompson led off with Mozart's Second Duo for violin and viola; at 27, when he composed this work, Mozart no longer wrote minor pieces even if he was working in a minor genre. At the end, Stoltzman and Thompson joined Wyner for a delightfully intimate performance of Mozart's ''Kegelstatt" Trio.