Three composers, one inspired show
Composing, at least in popular imagination, is a private activity, the product of one individual’s imagination. Even though the reality isn’t quite so solitary, joint works by composers are rare. So one interesting facet of Thursday’s concert by the Callithumpian Consort was the presence of “Triplex Mobilis,’’ a piece co-written by composers Lei Liang, Adam Roberts, and Nicholas Vines. Brought together by the Consort’s music director, Stephen Drury, the three worked cooperatively: Some passages contained music from each contributor, layered on top of one another.
The piece that resulted is constructed like a mobile - musical ideas revolve around one another, each in its own separate orbit. The concept worked spatially as well: Musicians were set up in different locations around the Gardner Museum’s Tapestry Room, and in the last movement some wandered through the aisles. All of this made the piece sound airy, open, and engaging.
Drury also programmed a work by each composer. Liang’s “Brush Stroke,’’ inspired by Chinese calligraphy, felt abstract and weightless. Much of the music coalesces around long-held notes which undergo subtle changes in color and dynamics. The fragility makes all the more powerful the arrival of a wild episode driven by outbursts from the percussion.
“Recoil,’’ by Roberts, was as extroverted as the Liang was reserved. Based on a motive of a downward glissando followed by a sharp upward sweep, it offered a constant stream of nervous energy couched in a vivid, brass-heavy sound that occasionally ran to ear-splitting. There is a constant sense of motion, even in its few placid moments; one could easily imagine it being choreographed and fitting into an ambitious dance recital.
The strange final work was Vines’s “Torrid Nature Scene,’’ which sets a poem by Andrew Robbie. The poetry deals with nature and sex, but the language is so baroque and densely allusive that it’s more likely to send one running for a dictionary than the Kama Sutra. Against a luxuriant instrumental background, a soprano and mezzo-soprano break up the text into syllables and interject all sorts of odd vocalisms. The point of “Torrid Nature Scene’’ seems to be excess, both linguistic and musical. It has moments of arresting beauty, but its excesses can only hold one’s attention for so long.
Paula Downes was the soprano and Thea Lobo the mezzo in the Vines, and both were excellent. Drury and the Callithumpians gave the kind of ambitious yet confident performances by which they have distinguished themselves for years.