What makes a good, convincing performance of music from the last half-century or so is the same sort of thing that makes good, convincing performances of music from earlier eras.
All you need (and it is a "big" need) are performers committed to the music as written by the composer and who make art by injecting a sense of humanity into their performances.
That, in a nutshell, was what made Wednesday night's performance by the Baird Trio so interesting. There were four (relatively) recent pieces on the program in addition to the final fillip, a piano trio by Franz Joseph Haydn (a bona fide old master), and all of them were made intriguing to the ear by the performers.
Hans Werner Henze's "Kammersonate" was originally finished in 1948, but, in 1963, the composer revised the score. The end result is a piece that jumps right into the fray with a dissonant enthusiasm before settling into something a bit more formal.
There was a blend of uneasy beauty and concentrated power, slow paced and poignant in the second movement, dramatic and intense in the third movement. All of which evolved into a bit of near cacophony at the front end of the fifth and final movement before segueing into a plaintive final sigh. Mauricio Kagel's catalog of works is eclectic and challenging. While he has frequently paid musical homage to the famous trio of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, Kagel has done so with a mix of atonality and an oddly distorted approach to populist material. His "Trio In Three Movements" had an extremely likable first movement and a brutally catchy finale.
In many ways the American premiere of Tigran Mansuryan's "Agnus Dei" was the most beguiling work on the program. Augmented by the superb clarinetist Jean Kopperud, the Baird Trio played with an admirably controlled tension. Kopperud's pacing of the expressive, deceptively simple clarinet part meshed well with the strings of violinist Movses Pogossian and cellist Jonathan Golove as Stephen Manes' piano chimed in.
Leif Segerstam is a talented and perceptive conductor, particularly with regards to the contemporary canon, but the sheer volume of his compositions threatens to dwarf that of any 20th century composer not named Hovhaness. The Haydn "Trio in E-flat major" (Hob.XV:29)closed out the evening like a breath of spring.
Wednesday night in Lippes Concert Hall, UB North Campus, Amherst.