NewEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble’s “Dimensions in Time” concert examined music’s ability to manipulate the perception of the passage of time. Its performance at the venerable St. Mary’s Episcopal Church downtown on Saturday night was well received by a small but devoted audience.
Timo Andres’ “Crashing Through Fences” was surprisingly mellow, given the unusual instrumentation of glockenspiel (Nick Petrella) and piccolo (Lyra Pherigo); both players each also operated a bass kick drum. The smooth, constrained note groupings gradually became busier, creating a surreal buzzing effect in the eardrum. They were not wholly locked in as they moved to a soft, repetitive sequence that required a more assured bass drum beat, though as the work progressed their urgency collided with a convincing final bang.
Playing with the push and pull of perception, Morton Subotnick’s “Then and Now and Forever” featured excellent communication among Thomas Aber (clarinet), Samuel Huang (violin) and Michael Kirkendoll (piano) as they sustained and exchanged delicate long tones, the piano suddenly challenging these static layers with insistent harmonic clashes and rapid rolling chaos.
Lansing McLoskey set poetry by Poul Borum for his challenging “The Unreal City.” The work has a haunting quality, especially in the quietude of the second movement with its extended vocal lines and pianissimo bowed crotales. The trio of Kirkendoll (piano), Victoria Botero (soprano) and Christopher Larson (percussion) gave a poised and balanced reading. The piece does not follow conventions, with its spastic and surprising percussion part against the affirmative, take-charge piano. The vocals interrupted and dismantled this forward momentum, the text expressed with arresting clarity.
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Lastly, and encompassing the program’s second half, was John Luther Adams’ “Four Thousand Holes.” Running for over half an hour, this work exemplified the malleability of the temporal experience, with the audience brought into another plain of listening as the dense, tidal sonorities bled in and faded out. Written for piano (Kirkendoll), percussion (Petrella and Larson) and electronics (Ted King-Smith), the piece was played with singular concentration, a feat of endurance.
The organlike depth of the seismic pulse contrasted to the sharp, shimmering tinsel of the acoustic percussion. The piano chords thudded as though decreed, conspiring to an almost hymnlike fervor. In a gradual crescendo of ascending chords, the work’s slow evolution moved from serene to intensely dramatic.
The final strains evaporated like a curl of smoke in the sunlight, the engulfing silence lasting a mesmerizing 15 seconds or so before it was disrupted by applause.