Sokol and Jacobs works fare best in Boston New Music Initiative season finale

April 13, 2014 at 1:20 pm

By Stefanie Lubkowski

Patrick Valentino, new artistic director of the Boston New Music Initiative, led the ensemble’s final concert of its fifth season Saturday at Pickman Hall.

The Boston New Music Initiative introduced their new artistic director, conductor Patrick Valentino, in their fifth season’s final concert, titled “Eternal Spring,” Saturday at Pickman Hall at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. This evening of music for chamber orchestra, various small ensembles, and voices was provided mixed rewards.

The program began with Emily Cooley’s chamber orchestra piece Lifted. Typical of a concert opener, it began the evening with a blaring flourish leading into a pulsing texture, that, while energetic, sounded rather muddy. Over this texture soprano Erin Smith floated fragments of poetry by Rumi, leading the ensemble toward a more rhapsodic texture devoid of the initial harmonic bite. While Cooley’s piece had an aptly optimistic tone for the concert’s theme, it failed to maintain focus, despite Valentino’s controlled and steady direction, until the all too brief coda of delicately placed piano and crotales.

Jonathan Sokol’s Le Salève, a setting of text by Jessica Rooney for four sopranos, achieved a perfect balance of vocal sound effects and the clear and beautiful tones such a quartet is capable of. Sokol’s smooth flow from sibilant phonemes to alternately sweet and biting harmonies was engaging from beginning to end and provided a perfect showcase for the wonderful musicianship of the singers. Especially exciting were the increasingly intense climaxes of rhythmic density.

A Compo Sunrise, by Nick Dibernardino, rounded out the first half of the program. This piece, for violin, clarinet, trombone, double bass, piano, and percussion, achieved an impressive fullness of sound from a relatively small ensemble. Valentino kept the momentum and ensemble coordination tight throughout. Unfortunately, the ascending melodic gestures and open harmonies ultimately proved cliched and too obviously programmatic. Even the more active rhythms and jazzy piano chords of the second half couldn’t add interest to Dibernardino’s uninspired work.

After intermission, the instrumentalists of the core BNMI ensemble launched into Bryan Jacobs’ exciting work Do You Need, Do To Me, 18 Me, 18 Mean, for an amplified sextet of “untrained vocalists” with electronics, confidently conducted by Valentino. This collage of fragmentary sung, whispered and spoken text alongside processed drones featured catchy rhythms and swift changes of intricately layered textures. Do You Need, Do To Me, 18 Me, 18 Mean reinvigorated the program, maintained momentum and interest from the first note to the last, and coordinated nicely with Sokol’s equally engaging piece on the first half.

In between this and BNMI’s big finish, Elizabeth Lim’s Tangled Threads, for flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, provided a quiet and meditative, if a bit nebulous, palate cleanser replete with sensual timbres, pretty textures, and enough unexpected melodic and harmonic turns to keep things interesting.

Roger Zare’s Fractal Miniatures, an interconnected set of six movements based on the shape of iconic mathematical fractals, provided the evening’s big finish. Scored for string quartet, flute, clarinet, trumpet, piano and percussion, this stirring piece moved from fierce aggressive rhythms through a perpetuum mobile movement to a sparse and mysterious texture, and back again for a raucous conclusion, all under Valentino’s alert and understated direction. Particularly impressive was the fifth section, in which Zare layered a simple melody on top of itself over and over to create dissonant harmonies and a monumental sense of space, all without losing the theme’s identity.

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