Music Review

New music moves across new landscapes

SICPP’s night of favorites, combinations

Stephen Drury conducts six players in French new music composer Tristan Murail’s “Lachrymae’’ at Brown Hall at the New England Conservatory Saturday. Murail is in residence at the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice. Stephen Drury conducts six players in French new music composer Tristan Murail’s “Lachrymae’’ at Brown Hall at the New England Conservatory Saturday. Murail is in residence at the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / June 27, 2011

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As more new music wilderness gets charted, the Sick Puppy Iditarod gets longer. The annual student-performance (plus guests) finale to the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP) has always been casually epic, the sort of concert that can program a musical monument almost in passing. (This year it was Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,’’ 60 minutes of aggressive percolation that commenced around 9:15.) But this Iditarod pushed past midnight into Sunday, a 10-hour course.

The expanded landscape, perhaps, reflected the presence of French composer Tristan Murail, in residence at SICPP this summer, with five works on Saturday’s bill. Murail likes to get inside musical sound, dismantling it and unhurriedly regarding the components. But he does so with sensual precision, amply evident from 1974’s “Transsahara Express,’’ dark, soft daubs given smooth varnish by bassoonist Christopher Watford and pianist Ingrid Lee, to “Lachrymae,’’ a six-player, slow-motion ululation premiered earlier in the week, and reprised under the direction of SICPP director Stephen Drury.

That sort of mobile-like aesthetic, more atmosphere than arc, was prominent, especially in 10 works by fellows in SICPP’s New Works Program. The best went beyond influence with either energy — cellist Elizabeth Lee and saxophonist Zach Herchen’s vehement bow-pressure-and-multiphonic distortions in Ryo Nakayama’s “Xxxx xxx’’ — or efficiency with Davide Ianni’s “Trasparenze d’Accenti,’’ a nicely paced key-clicks-and-air musical X-ray for flute (Sarah Brady), trombone (McMillan Gaither), and percussion (Sayun Chang), or Eliza Brown’s aptly-titled “Barely,’’ a just-audible aria of hesitance for solo flute (Jennifer Ingertila).

Lee Weisert’s “New England Drift,’’ a premiere, combined seven players’ worth of whispers, clicks, and fleeting triads into a charmingly eerie forest of parlor-song ghosts. Memorials were memorable: Christian Wolff’s “For Morty’’ (a tribute to Morton Feldman), realized with off-kilter gentleness by pianist Sid Samberg and percussionists Gary Donald and Jeffrey Kolega; the furious bells of Philippe Hurel’s “Tombeau in memoriam Gérard Grisey,’’ pianist Jack Dettling and percussionist Cory Bracken rhythmic and ringing; and György Kurtag’s explosive, gnomic “Hommage à R. Sch.,’’ finely etched by violist Ethan Wood, clarinetist Benjamin Irwin, and pianist Christopher Owen.

Old-guard repertoire dated to 1948 (Elliott Carter’s Cello Sonata, performed by Lee and pianist Christina Wright, and sounding almost nostalgic in this context); classics from the 1950s and ’60s offered provocations both clement and severe. In Feldman’s “Two Pieces for Three Pianos,’’ a SICPP favorite, Maribel Hernández Tagle, Todd Moellenberg, and Asher Severini puffed muted, dissonant clouds. Karlheinz Stockhausen was represented by the atom-smashed jazz of “Kreuzspiel’’ (conducted by Jeffrey Means) and the dispersed metallic shimmer of “Refrain’’ (Wright joined by Jo Zhou on celesta and Christian Smith on percussion) — the latter foreshadowing much of the concert’s sound-world. And Lukas Foss’s “Paradigm’’ turned the line between avant-garde music and performance art into a trip-wire for increasingly absurd booby-traps.

Like much of the music, “Paradigm’’ was amplified — as with the Reich, to facilitate balance. Others molded the signal; music by fellows in SICPP’s Electronic Workshop used live performance as source material for computer-controlled transmutations. (Simon Hanes’s “Regiomontanus’’ was particularly fine, Franziska Huhn’s harp triggering a glittering hall of mirrors.) Here, too, Murail was an exemplar; his “Winter Fragments,’’ conducted by Julia Tai, electronically opened out a sextet into gorgeous, deep-focus, prismatic topography.

True to SICPP’s penchant for invitation, as the hours passed, the music seemed to become more ruminative, more beguiling. The marathon closed with a meditation: John Cage’s “Ryoanji,’’ implacably sparse tolling drums (Kolega), an oboist (Anne Goldberg) trading bent-note aphorisms with her own prerecorded shadow, the Iditarod drifting off into the predawn.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at


Stephen Drury, director

SICPP 2011 Iditarod

At: Brown Hall, New England Conservatory, Saturday-Sunday