LENOX — The 2013 Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood started with a redolent retrospective: Elliott Carter’s First String Quartet, written in 1951, an early exemplar of the style of contemporary music that the festival has annually surveyed. The performance by members of the New Fromm Players was bracing, with a superb sense of the structure’s large-scale respirations. The music’s brawny grandeur, though, grows out of sharply delineated disunities among the instruments. It was an aspirational prelude to a festival organized around disparate, precise idiosyncrasies.
This year’s festival, directed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, features only eight composers, an unusually limited roster. (In more ways than one: the composers are exclusively white males.) Carter is a focus, along with Marco Stroppa and Helmut Lachenmann, European-born modernists who nevertheless cultivate individual accents. All three featured in Thursday’s main concert, which was suffused with theatricality.