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music review

A spiritual jam from Boston Musica Viva

Richard Pittman (pictured in 2009), is Boston Musica Viva’s music director.
Richard Pittman (pictured in 2009), is Boston Musica Viva’s music director.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff /file 2009

Music director Richard Pittman called Boston Musica Viva’s Saturday season finale “BMV World Tour 2015,” but its centerpiece made a case for not knowing whether one is coming or going. The essential inspiration behind Shirish Korde’s “Kala Chakra” — a nine-movement song cycle-cum-spiritual jam session, given its premiere — was samsara, the birth-and-death cycle that, in many eastern religions, emphasizes life’s fleeting impermanence. Enlightenment turned out to have a wide-ranging itinerary.

Korde, a Holy Cross professor with an omnivorous streak, oriented (and continually reoriented) the piece around three soloists: soprano Gitanjali Mathur, trained in Indian and Western traditions; Wu Tong, a virtuoso on the sheng, the Chinese mouth organ — and a rock singer; and tabla master Sandeep Das, a veteran of cross-genre explorations. An opening, rhythmically chattering volley — based on bols, mnemonic syllables used to communicate tabla patterns — led to a mournful, wintry Czech folksong, violinist Gabriela Diaz and cellist Jan Müller-Szeraws interjecting pizzicato shivers, percussionist Robert Schulz’s marimba introducing limpid disturbance. An improvisation between Wu and Das was followed by another bol burst. A setting of Chinese poetry had Mathur negotiating wide leaps of straight-tone melody over a chorus of bells (flutist Ann Bobo and clarinetist William Kirkley doubling on crotales); a Chinese folksong, a vocal duet, ingeniously intertwined Mathur’s full, silvery operatic voice with Wu’s throaty expressivity.

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Another Czech folksong, this one heralding spring, spilled splashes of jazzy harmonies — pianist Aaron Likness comping in appropriately modal style — while Mathur dropped down to a sultry, scat-singing chest voice; another improvisation, structured around riffs culled from classic jazz, eventually roped in the entire ensemble. A drumming-and-chanting cadenza from Das rounded off a reprise of the opening. Even with its web of thematic echoes — seasonal and rhythmic cycles; the in-the-moment of both jazz and eastern philosophy — the experience of “Kala Chakra” remained decidedly and (one suspects) deliberately heterogeneous: a reservoir of opportunities to regard change and surprise with equanimity.

The concert opened with music sounding varieties of translation. Sebastian Currier’s “Whispers” orchestrated such quietly projected intensities, Bobo, Müller-Szeraws, Likness, and Schulz exerting soft-spoken control, musical chase scenes dynamically dialed back into impressionistic patterns. Chou Wen-chung’s “Ode to Eternal Pine” originated as a piece for Korean traditional instruments; the transfer to a western ensemble (filled out by Diaz and Kirkley) prompted a string of resourceful atmospheres, entire worlds condensed into precise moments. Franco Donatoni’s “Arpège” (another sextet), in turn, magnified short motives into bright, kaleidoscopic obsessiveness; its steady accretion of small variations evoked the dizzying litanies of a foreign phrasebook. Travel gets more interesting once you begin to pick up the language.

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More concert reviews:

Lescalleet fosters community on CD and new concert series

Hancock, Corea revel in togetherness at Symphony Hall

Forsythe and Hansen are truly delightful at BEMF


Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri@gmail.com.