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Norrbotten NEO finds beauty in music at June in Buffalo

The annual June in Buffalo concert series is a regional cultural institution with an international presence and an impressively focused vision. That said, not many people show up for the concerts and those who do are usually associated with the event as composers, musicians, students, faculty or behind-the-scenes staffers.

There are still reasons for attending however and those boil down to some of the things that Wednesday night’s performance by Norrbotten NEO, the Swedish new music ensemble, provided for the ears. It was a mixture of interesting works that flipped between genuinely interesting blends of culture and works that eschewed aural beauty for formal exercise. Performances continue through Sunday.

Peter Sundkvist, the conductor for the evening, led the musicians through the whole process with considerable aplomb and the players did a more than credible job of wending their way through sonic thickets to find what beauty may have been invested in the scores.

Stephen Hartke’s “Meanwhile” found the group delving into material inspired by Eastern idioms including Vietnamese and Indonesian folk forms. During an earlier rehearsal of the piece, Hartke coached the players through miniscule adaptations, having the percussion players adjust the force with which they struck their instruments while the pianist was instructed in where to place objects on the piano’s strings to prepare it for a specific sound.

Even though the rehearsal was in a smaller venue than it was unveiled to the public in, the whole process was informative when heard in the larger Lippes Concert Hall on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus, Amherst. It’s those little touches which ultimately made the piece work.

Par Lindgren’s “Aliti – Mentre stiamo respirando” was the only really short, small work of the evening. A trio for violin, flute and clarinet sans conductor had an eerie beauty about it with rootstock that could have been pan-Asiatic without giving away where the inspiration came from.

Joshua Fineberg’s “Shards” was an aptly entitled trio for flutes, cello and clarinets (the wind players “doubled”) that jabbed at the ears and sliced up space. There were moments when it seemed like the bass clarinet lines could have been lifted from Eric Dolphy’s 1960s method book.

Hilda Paredes’ sextet (“Homenaje a Remedios Varo”) was the sort of thing that deserved at least a listen, but it was more a reorganization of sound and space than what the hoi polloi would probably consider listening to.

David Felder’s “Three Songs from Three Watches” were good vehicles for showcasing how low bass/baritone singer Nicholas Isherwood could vocalize and the electronic sounds accompanying the players included wonderful readings of poems by Robert Creeley and Dana Gioia. That said, Isherwood has worked with better material in the past.

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