WALTHAM — Contemporary-music concerts are often the sort of communal affairs where everyone knows one another. Saturday’s concert by Dinosaur Annex at Brandeis University was especially so: It was a 60th-birthday concert for Eric Chasalow, a composer who’s been on the faculty since 1990. A substantial audience turned out to the school’s Slosberg Music Center to fete him, even though his milestone birthday was in May.
Chasalow is known for deepening and extending the interaction between instrumental and electronic music, and two of his works showed how different the interface could be. In the opening “Due (Cinta)mani” (2002), highly charged piano writing was electronically extended and transmuted. The two sets of sounds live on distinct planes, the processed ones enduring as a kind of palimpsest of those from the piano. It was played with focus and intensity by pianist Donald Berman.
Between Chasalow’s works came two premieres by Brandeis colleagues. Yu-Hui Chang’s “A Long Overdue Sequel” for solo percussionist (played by Robert Schulz) inverted the first piece’s paradigm. An acoustic rewriting of an earlier piece for processed electronic sounds that Chang began (but never finished) years ago in a class taught by Chasalow, it was replete with rapid-fire changes of texture and dynamics, punctuated by spaces of silence.
David Rakowski’s “All That Chas” for clarinet and string trio, by contrast, was a model of elegance, the music shifting almost imperceptibly from hazy stillness to busy, rhythmically pointed interchange among the players, before tranquillity returns at the end. The clarinet part, beautifully played by Diane Heffner, was unfailingly lyrical.
The Chang and Rakowski pieces framed the Quartetto No. 4 (2005), also for clarinet and string trio, by Mario Davidovsky, Chasalow’s most important teacher. Here the strings and the clarinet occupied different worlds which would sometimes work in accord, sometimes collide against each other. Even in its most energetic moments, though, Davidovsky’s writing never lost an impeccable sense of refinement.
The concluding work was Chasalow’s “On That Swirl of Ending Dust” (2011), for sextet and fixed media. Here, in contrast to “Due (Cinta)mani,” the hectic instrumental tangle and its processed counterpart all exist on the same horizon, so that the music becomes one single sweep of ideas. Indeed, Chasalow’s ensemble writing is so colorful and varied that one wondered at times how necessary the electronic material really was. The third movement conjured a remote landscape, barren and desolate. David Hoose conducted this difficult work. Birthday cake was served afterward — exact dates be damned.
At Slosberg Music Center, Brandeis University, Waltham, SaturdayDavid Weininger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davidgweininger.