The Auros Group for New Music's prize-winning formula for programming recent work is to link it to the other arts. Saturday night's concert by the enterprising ensemble was about poetry and music, and specifically about musical responses to the work of American women poets.
The soloist was the extraordinary soprano Janna Baty -- the sex-crazed Duchess in Opera Unlimited's production of Thomas Ades's "Powder Her Face" last spring. Baty has presence, intelligence, musicianship, and a voice far more opulent in tone and richer in interpretive possibilities than anyone associates with new-music singers.
She warmed up on two quirky settings of Gertrude Stein by Virgil Thomson ("Pigeons on the grass, alas") before moving on to Shulamit Ran's substantial setting of Sylvia Plath's "Apprehensions" for soprano, clarinet, and piano. The poem is about the walls that were closing in on the poet before her suicide -- walls of white, gray, red, and black. They are related through thematic development in the music, which moves from rage to resignation and from pain to numbness. Pianist Nina Ferrigno and clarinetist William Kirkley let the emotions devour them as fearlessly as Baty did.
Poet Erica Jablon read the evening's texts, including Muriel Rukeyser's charmingly erotic "The Conjugation of the Paramecium," to which composer Timothy Melbinger responded with a piece for two percussionists (Robert Schulz and Samuel Z. Solomon,) one playing the vibraphone, the other playing untuned instruments, exchanging the music's nucleus in the way parameciums interact.
The program ended with "A Mirror on Which to Dwell," six poems by Elizabeth Bishop, glitteringly set by Elliott Carter for soprano and a chamelonic chamber ensemble of nine. It was capably conducted by Michael Adelson, superbly played, and sung with intimacy and exuberance by Baty.