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Music Review

At SICPP, modernism in moderation on Monday

“Moderate,” adjective, tending toward balance; “moderate,” verb, to preside over debate. Both definitions pervaded Christian Wolff’s “Moderate (Stefan Wolpe),” which opened Monday night’s concert at the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice, featuring SICPP faculty and members of the Callithumpian Consort — and remained in play for the rest of the concert. The music found unorthodox accord in agreeing to disagree.

“Moderate (Stefan Wolpe)” — commissioned for the Consort and premiered by the group in March — is a compendium of rubbed shoulders, shuffling a deck of quick, contrasting ideas: pianists Stephen Drury and Yukiko Takagi and percussionists Stuart Gerber and Scott Deal spun chant-like unison chains, then abruptly shifted into dense outbursts; serene gongs primed thick piano turbidity; expressionist flourishes yielded to implacable rhythmic clockwork. The title recollects a description by Wolpe, an old-school modernist, of a piece encompassing “quick, slow, hampered, expressive, popular, and peopled speech”; Wolff more than honored that polyglot impulse.


Two other works paid homage, indirect and direct, to a late master of musical confabulation, Elliott Carter. Jeffrey Mumford’s “through the filtering dawn of spreading daybright” reduced a favorite Carter conflict — the individual vs. the crowd — to a dark-and-darker duo of viola and double bass (Ashleigh Gordon and Lizzie Burns, respectively, boosting their instruments’ rich shadows). Mumford, a Carter student, neatly delineated shifting timeframes and a background discourse of regulated intervals, but within a stately structural rhythm, like the well-worn groove of a timeless argument.

“Elliott’s Instruments,” by Rand Steiger, this summer’s SICPP composer-in-residence, was a more explicit tribute: a sextet channeling and occasionally quoting Carter’s bustling style. Drury conducted a performance that, even in quieter moments, emphasized opportunities for energetic edge, layers of musical time elbowing their way around each other. It was an urbane scrum.

Nicholas Vines’s piano quartet “Dysart’s Changelings” was the night’s most in-your-face music, and also (or, perhaps, therefore) the most arresting. The piece takes cues from an architectural parley between Michael Dysart’s hulking 1970s tower for Sydney’s University of Technology and its recently renovated Great Hall.


As Gordon, violinist Micah Brightwell, and cellist David Russell moved here and there across the Jordan Hall stage — in ever-reconfigured orbit around Elaine Rombola’s piano — the music mixed brawn with bright haze, filling in power chords with squalls of bristling accents, scales, and murmurs. But Vines invested both the heavy scaffolding and the modernist graffiti with equal grandeur. The positions diverged, but, in its all-enveloping emphasis, the debate created its own harmony.

The Callithumpian Consort

Presented by the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice 2015; Stephen Drury, artistic director

At: Jordan Hall, Monday

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at