|Soprano Zorana Sadiq gave a glowing performance.|
"Hands Across the Seas," the title of Boston Musica Viva's season finale on Friday, referred to the varied cultural ancestries of the four programmed composers; music director Richard Pittman mused that their only shared trait was that "they're very true to their roots." But each also adopted the polished new-music Esperanto in which the group is so fluent.
Chen Yi's quartet "Qi" echoes Chinese music, but the difficult-to-translate "force" of the title comes in bright modernist torrents. The performance was individually intense (especially cellist Jan Müller-Szeraws) but collectively disconnected, each player seemingly isolated in the Tsai Performance Center's inhospitably flat acoustic.
In Osvaldo Golijov's Holocaust-themed "There is wind and there are ashes in the wind," disjunct, klezmer-shaded clarinet chanting over piano gusts becomes a shrill dance of death, as the players recite portions of an Elie Wiesel lecture; pianist Geoffrey Burleson's understated monotone suited the rhetoric better than clarinetist William Kirkley's tenor twang. Microphone amplification was awkward, but the music-making was sure-footed, attuned to Golijov's solemn theatricality.
William Kraft's 1993 Concerto for Percussion and Chamber Ensemble, a Musica Viva commission, represented the home front: a fife-and-drum tune turns up in various states of avant-garde disassembly, ending high in the piano, marching away into silence. Alternately playful and poignant, the piece engages the ear as much with imaginative color as instrumental display. Dean Anderson was the percussion soloist, controlling his array with efficient dexterity; the five-player ensemble was tight and atmospheric.
Shirish Korde's "Songs of Ecstasy," receiving its premiere, weaves mystical poems into an extended cycle with a theatrical element: dancer Wendy Jehlen, combining Southeast Asian and modern elements, was energetic but secondary, gesturally echoing the musical phrasing.
Portentous English settings of the Sufist poet Rabia's "Heaven and Hell" and "Darkness of Night," by the Indian Kabir, were in an expressionist mode, particularly the latter: a soaring, diving operatic vocal line against dense, glinting harmonic masses in the six instruments. For Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Chalo phir se muskarayen" ("Never mind, let's smile again," sung in Urdu), the addition of Aditya Kalyanpur's loose and genial tabla pushed the music into more popular territory, a catchy melody nudged appealingly off-balance by a looping accompanying scale. In the finale, "Surrender" - a virtuoso flurry, sung on Indian solfege syllables - Korde at times seemed to be triangulating between Bollywood, New Tango, and the early 20th century's classical vogue for Spanish exoticism.
Though soprano Zorana Sadiq's face was hidden behind a microphone (this amplification was more agreeably unobtrusive), her glowing voice and enthusiastic versatility were in fine counterpoint to the group's exuberant richness. It was the evening's most satisfying performance, both composer and ensemble happy with their hands stylistically full.