The Albright-Knox Gallery has fostered a tradition of presenting musical programs to accompany the openings of its major exhibitions.
Sunday afternoon's concert by the Buffalo New Music Ensemble in the gallery auditorium paired nicely with the showing of "Selected Geometric Abstract Painting in America Since 1945."
The concert itself was neatly balanced -- the first half featuring music of singular ideas and straight-line processes, the second half bringing in more complex development and technical sophistication.
So there was Arvo Part to start, the Estonian composer's 1978 "Spiegel im spiegel" (Mirror in the mirror) for violin and piano. The piece unfolds as a sort of perpetual palindrome, a two-note phrase reflecting itself and extending outward, the violin in serene, contemplative adagio while the piano supports in delicate triads.
Hymnlike in effect with its plagal resolutions and rapt simplicity, it was played with calm assurance by violinist Kunda Magenau and pianist Michael McCandless.
Steve Reich's "Four Organs" (1970) was reprised from the ensemble's season-opening concert at the Historical Society last week, the gradually extended rhythmic suspension of a single chord building tension.
The second half brought the premiere of ensemble leader McCandless' "Against Nature," for flute, clarinet, cello, violin, piano and percussion.
The title refers to a 19th-century novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans involving a character's rebellion against society. The music reflects the progression from chaos to control.
It opens rather mysteriously, with discreet tremolos, micro-tones and glissandi over a thread of melody from the clarinet. There is a sense of groping towards something, a certain modality that gives it a ritualistic effect. First the flute and then other instruments become more vocal, joining with the clarinet. There is acceleration to a more rhythmic, distinctive utterance, a plateau of chords and a leap into more wild toccata style.
It all coalesces at the end to measured unisons and the hint of triadic resolution in the final violin harmonics. The piece is beautifully scored and quite effective, though some tentative playing towards the last sections tended to dull its dramatic impact. Ferruccio Germani conducted the ensemble.
The finale was William Susman's "Twisted Figures" (1987), a virtuoso chamber work built on a symmetrical scale tone-row. Full of flash and fury that belies its technically controlled compositional agenda, the work was played with a fine hectic passion by the ensemble under conductor Germani.
A concert in conjunction with the exhibition: Abstraction-Geometry-Painting at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
The Buffalo New Music Ensemble performing works of Reich, Susman, Part and McCandless.