November 22, 2006

12 Exercises in Tonality by Composers of Today

The Chamber Orchestra Kremlin played 12 new pieces in the space of an hour at Weill Recital Hall on Monday, the experience somewhat resembling a Reader’s Digest condensation of contemporary musical thought. The pieces come by way of Misha Rachlevsky, a conductor from Moscow who has wandered the world and founded this 17-musician string ensemble in 1991. Mr. Rachlevsky recently held a competition called “Homage to Mozart,” and these composers were the finalists.

Arranging them by nationality, I counted five Americans, three Russians and one each from Lithuania, France, Serbia and Israel. Their common bond was a lack of interest in anything beyond tonality. Piece after piece snarled and bit with dissonance but always said goodbye with a big major chord. Busy, sometimes fierce rhythmic patterns occupied a lot of these minds (Beth Denisch, Alexey Larin, Dov Carmel). Philippe Bodin’s “Swirl” liked to do just that, sometimes with superimposed time schemes.

Some pieces moved slowly and darkly (those by Zhanna Plieva and Arvydas Malcys). Others showed affection for popular-music syncopations and dance movement (works by Kate Sullivan and George Higgs). I very much liked Mr. Higgs’s “Famine Dance,” with its syncopated, hoe-down humor and slow waltz-time fading in and out. Leonard Eskin’s “250 Years in 250 Seconds,” in which Baroque style turns rococo turns Romantic turns 20th-century, was a clever idea not quite realized.

After intermission came an arrangement of the Brahms Sextet in G, music that really works better with one on a part than with four or five. A majority of these good, ardent young players looked barely out of their teens, and if the Brahms did not have the tight ensemble it might have, addressing 13 different styles in the space of two hours must be exhausting.