The Shawl of the New

Current Sounds

At First United Methodist Church, Monday, April 3.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

As ceaseless rain pattered outside, the latest edition of the Current Sounds series unfolded last Monday, a mostly accessible program of chamber music from the last 50 years — including scores by Claus Ogerman, Chen Yi, Osvaldo Golijov, and William Grant Still. Who knew that new music could be such a comforting force?

This balanced showcase of American music included transplanted “outsiders” who have generously enriched the musical landscape in the U.S. On tap were such notable figures as Chen Yi (from mainland China), Golijov (from Argentina by way of Israel), and German arranger/composer Ogerman, whose intelligent charts have ennobled albums by Jobim, Sinatra, Michael Brecker, and Diana Krall.

Dazzling young violinist Yue Deng and pianist Robert Elise performed Ogerman’s lyrical — but never lazy — 1975 piece “Nightwings” and his 1997 “Sarabande-Fantasie,” its slightly wrenched, polytonal palette a world away from Sinatraville.

Pianist Hogan and wonderful cellist Virginia Kron played Yi’s “Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in,” a small delight, nodding to both the Chinese and the adoptive American aspects of the composer’s heritage. Hogan’s own short “Matisse,” played with grace and gumption by Kron, harnesses the artist’s elements of lightness and surprise. In another case of one art form co-opting another, soprano Agatha Carubia sang Elaine Fine’s “Cante Jundo,” a neo-impressionistic, Spanish-flavored setting of Federico García Lorca poems.

Re-filtering folk music was another common theme, between the handsome vernacular colors of “Reflejos de la Noche,” by Mexican composer Mario Lavista (he visited UCSB as part of a new music festival several years back) and the sweet-natured “Danzas de Panama” by great African-American composer Still (1895-1978).

But the clear highlight of the set — and concert — was the 1992 work “Yiddishbbuk: Inscriptions for String Quartet,” by Golijov (a composer-in-residence at the Ojai Festival in June). Golijov freely weaves elements of dissonance and melodic tonalism, atmospheric passages and floating structures. Those ideas are present here, between two arid, intense shorter sections — with a teasing klezmer pulse at one point — followed by a longer, mysteriously vaporous third section. The Ojai String Quartet — Yue, Kron, violinist Amy Hagen, and violist Kirsten Monk — played it with precision and illuminating purpose.

This edition of Current Sounds qualified for the subtitle “clement sounds,” with well-placed little provocations along the way. What an ideal way to get out of the Monday night rain — and the “old music” doldrums.

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