“Music of the Last Quarter Century” performed on Sunday, May 15, by the Alcyon Chamber Ensemble at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester was my introduction to the fairly recently formed group, founded in 2006 by cellist and Artistic Director Shannon Snapp. Since then, ACE has been following its “mission to provide exciting performances to audiences of all ages, and to foster the love of music in children.” Alcyon, ACE tells us “is a mythical golden bird that calms troubled waters.”
Challenging music of composers Wolfgang Rihm, Toru Takemitsu, and Krzytof Penderecki fashioned a kind of accelerando-crescendo program. Rihm’s slow, static, and sparse duo, Antlitz, started off the afternoon. Takemitsu’s Between Tides for a trio of instruments began putting some wave action into the program, and Penderecki’s Sextet finally brought the tempos and decibels up. Between Takemitsu and Penderecki came a new work by Gustavo Brasil, his Three Octets, a result of the Michael J. Weinstein Commissioning Fund for ACE. Boston-based guitarist Brasil trained at Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory.
The announcement of this year’s composition winner came at intermission: Sid Richardson, a Belmont resident who is completing his undergraduate degree at Tufts University and who will be beginning his Master’s degree at the Boston Conservatory this fall. Snapp informed us that submissions for ACE’s competition “came as far away as Sweden and England.”
Both of these two composers were in attendance. Also present and performing was “guest young artist” Patrick McGuire of Weston who is now an undergraduate student of the cello at The Juilliard School.
The highlight of the afternoon to my surprise was the silence-riddled Antlitz (Face). My being surprised, I believe, had more to do with the fine performance by Shufang Du, violin, and Leslie Amper, piano, who dreamed in color through their instruments, the latter being a Yamaha grand and not the concert hall size at that. Their sensitivity to the German’s isolated notes as well as to each other’s playing never let up. They disguised less as more.
Violinist Edward Wu joined Amper and McGuire in the picturesque soundscape of Takemitsu. Ebb and flow did not come easily for the ensemble. For the premiere of Gustavo Brasil’s Three Octets, Diane Heffner, clarinet Luke Sutherland, bass, Michael Weinstein, horn, and Dimitar Petkov filled out the octet. “Tell Me Later,” “Sul” (South), and “Sampaio’s Baobab” (baobab is a giant tree) relied heavily on doublings and a scarcity of compositional techniques.
Alcyon took on the complicated and rhythmically tough ensemble music of Penderecki’s well-known Sextet for mixed instruments with a certain conviction. The grotesque but not incongruous dances that pop up toward the ends of the two movements, allegro moderato and larghetto, stood out as having moody life likenesses, thanks to Alcyon. For the rest of the way through the half-hour long Polish composer’s demanding chamber work, Alcyon appeared not quite ready for the task at hand, their rough performance focusing more on the notes than on meanings.
The same program will be repeated May 22 at 3 pm in Westford, at the Parish Center for the Arts.