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.
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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Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.