LENOX -- The first concert of the 2005 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music set the bar awfully high for the six programs to follow. Festival director John Harbison's opening gambit was to present significant works by old masters of new music, which were magnificently performed by the talented young fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center and guests.
Pierre Boulez, 80, was represented by ''Memoriale (. . . explosante-fixe . . . Originel)" from 1985. It's a short, quiet, suggestive piece: A solo flute freely darts over a more stable landscape created by a chamber ensemble. Alicia DiDonato was the accomplished soloist, and Alan Pierson conducted with care and conviction.
Luigi Dallapiccola's ''Commiato" (''Leavetaking") was the final completed work of this comparatively neglected 20th-century master. A memorial piece composed in 1972 when Dallapiccola was 68, ''Commiato" begins with a cry of anguish, continues with a setting of 13th-century prayer of consolation, and ends with the cry transformed and transfigured. For TMC faculty soprano Lucy Shelton, Dallapiccola's extreme demands on vocal range and dynamics were simply opportunities for vivid expression. Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Ludovic Morlot led with sensitivity.
Sir Harrison Birtwistle's ''Secret Theatre" (1984), belatedly performed in honor of his 70th birthday, builds musical drama by juxtaposing two ensembles, the smaller one drawn from the larger as players move to other parts of the stage to deliver solos and ensembles. BSO guest conductor Ingo Metzmacher displayed virtuosity and imagination, and so did the players.
Elliott Carter's ''Dialogues" for piano and orchestra (2003) may be the most youthful piece of the group. There is complexity in the music, but also freshness, energy, charm, and pathos. Pianist Ursula Oppens was authoritative and spontaneous, and James Button played the opening English horn solo with plaintive simplicity; Metzmacher presided alertly. The evening's loudest ovation erupted when Carter, 96, appeared onstage, looking ready for more.