Ursula K. Le Guin writes that after having read a good novel, "we may find that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it's very hard to say just what we learned, how we were changed." The same can be said for having heard Hub New Music's sampler of NEC faculty member Kati Agócs's evocative works at Jordan Hall on Sunday night. The concert was one of firsts: the first evening solely dedicated to Agócs's chamber music; Hub New Music's first appearance at Jordan. (The group, which formed at NEC in 2013, debuted in a classroom.) Notes on the page and young musicians onstage meshed, enfolding innumerable stories and images into the sounds.
"Crystallography" set poet Christian Bök's words into ecstatic vocal incantations, sung by soprano Adrienne Arditi. (Thanks to last-minute heroics by the Jordan Hall ushers, the audience was able to read along with the intricate poetry.) Instruments flowed slowly, wrapping around the central vocal line, and percussionist Maria Finkelmeier laid down a robust processional rhythm.
The virtuosic first movement of "Every Lover Is a Warrior," based on the Appalachian ballad "John Riley," had harpist Ina Zdorovetchi wheeling and tumbling through the octaves, drawing out striking, earthy tones. The solo instrument became a full bluegrass ensemble, both melody and rhythm. "Saint Elizabeth Bells" reminisced on Agócs's father's last days. In nine minutes, cellist Allison Drenkow streamed through the spectrum of human emotions. Her instrument's sound trembled and roared under the otherworldly ring of Nicholas Tolle's cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer that sounds like a piano echoing in a dream.
The world premiere of "Hyacinth Curl" was exceptionally transporting. The voices of Arditi and mezzo-soprano Emily Harmon swooned in the sinuous but sparse lines of a Sufi devotional poem, overlapping and swelling into rapturous harmony before joining at last in unison. Occasional arresting peals from the singers' handbells provided the only accompaniment.
The final piece was "Immutable Dreams," a restless memento mori for Pierrot ensemble with a haunting pulse. The instruments' colors imperceptibly blended, fragments of ostinatos picking up on each other and spiraling outward.
Hub's commitment to fresh works by less familiar composers is made more exciting by the ensemble's newness — an attribute possibly also to blame for the small number of occupied seats. Next time the group offers a concert, go, listen, and be changed.
Hub New Music
At Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Sunday
Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.