On Thursday night, for the latest in the Gardner Museum’s “Stir” concert series, pianist Paavali Jumppanen and his wide-ranging curiosity and technique alighted on music for piano and electronics — two new pieces, one old. But the program demonstrated how new and old constantly intermingle in music: The newest pieces consciously made connection with the past, while the oldest piece, its connections self-realized, reasserted a potent claim on the present.
Perttu Haapanen’s 2014 “Mi Noche Triste Revisited,” an American premiere, made angular piano extrapolations from Carlos Gardel’s 1917 recording of the tango “Mi Noche Triste.” Nostalgia was trumped by dense, stylish modernism; in Hollywood terms, Haapanen’s interpretation was a gritty reboot, the original layered over with dark atmosphere and implied violence. The old recording was subsumed into a digital collage of transmission noise: static, interference, crackle, distortion, a romanticized past lost in translation.
Hans Tutschku’s “Shadow of Bells” (a world premiere), inspired by Japanese temples’ ancient sounds and ambiance, electronically stretched Jumpannen’s crystalline touch into lingering clouds of glassy overtones. Tutschku — the head of Harvard’s electroacoustic music program — mixed subtle, adept doctoring of the piano’s tone with field-recorded bells: reverberation with benefits. Jumppanen’s part was a challenge suiting his crisp fluidity, a modernist-mercurial meditation, the bell sounds not so much tolling as ricocheting across great distances, sharply struck, ringing long.
Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 1960 “Kontakte,” too, is underpinned by time, a realization that rhythm and pitch are just slower and faster ends of a frequency continuum. Originally for electronic sounds on tape, Stockhausen subsequently added parts for percussionist and pianist (tasked with a battery of percussion as well). Jumppanen was joined by fellow Stockhausen votary Jeffrey Means in a stunning performance of a stunning piece. (The duo, with Tutschku again manning the electronics, will repeat it as part of Jumppanen’s Sunday afternoon Gardner Museum recital.)
“Kontakte” is more than 50 years old, and, in certain ways, sounds it: The analog-electronic whir and growl is period-redolent, as is the musical vocabulary of serially appointed dissonant shards. And yet it remains bracingly immediate — in part, because of the notion of time at its core. Time fuels its ritualistic intensity: Jumppanen and Means, locked into the tape’s temporal dictate, were compellingly precise. And the way “Kontake” manipulates time’s flow — bending it, marking it, punctuating it — ultimately becomes desperately, timelessly poignant. The performers and piece do everything imaginable to time; everything, that is, but stop its inevitable, irreversible passage.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at email@example.com.