Anyone interested in contemporary music, and even those who aren’t sure, should set aside April 17 and 18 for the second annual Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival at the Portland Conservatory of Music in the Woodfords Congregational Church. Programs are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 17 and 7:30 p.m. April 18.

Last year’s premiere came as a pleasant surprise to many traditional concertgoers, both for the quality and interest of the compositions and for the skill and enthusiasm of the performers.

This year’s concert will feature many vocal and instrumental soloists plus the Bowdoin New Music Ensemble under the direction of Peter McLaughlin.

An additional point of interest is that every work on the program will be by composers now living and writing in Maine. The compositions range from neo-romantic and musical theater to a concerto grosso on themes related to robins. Others combine visual and audio effects, with one medium influencing the other.

Each of the three programs has something unique to offer, but from a purely personal standpoint, I was struck by several compositions that reflect some of my own musical preoccupations.

For example, I write each spring about bird song, which remains a mystery. I should have talked with Elliott Schwartz about sources.

His new “Round Robin” (April 17 evening concert) “uses the format of ‘concerto’ as its springboard, and also incorporates pre-existing fragments — musical and otherwise — into its texture. The work is influenced by the model of the Baroque concerto grosso, with four of the ensemble members taking a turn as soloists, and tutti passages separating each solo section. The format gave rise to the title ‘Round Robin,’ which in turn led me to use pre-existing materials related to robins. (Sources range from Adam de la Halle to Edward MacDowell to English folk song to Al Jolson.)”

Speaking of mysteries, Frank Mauceri’s “Mortal Engines,” which premieres April 18, asks Wittgenstein’s question: “Why something rather than nothing?” in three-way conversations among saxophone, violin and computer audio processing.

Gia Commoli’s work is always striking, and her “Icons” for solo violin, written for and played by her husband, DaPonte String Quartet violinist Ferdinand Liva, depicts icons from a Greek Orthodox church in Doylestown, Pa., where I grew up.

Readers of this column may remember a discussion about equal temperament on the piano, and how it adversely affects intervals in choral singing.

Philip Carlsen’s “October,” to be played by his son, Melsen, in the April 17 evening concert, “(calls) attention to the inherent out-of-tuneness of Western equal temperament. The idea was not simply to create dissonance but to employ voicings and doublings that trick the ear into thinking the piano is out of tune with itself. This is especially apparent in the doublings of the piano’s extreme registers, playing on the curious phenomenon that for example, the lowest E on the piano seems to sound more in tune with the highest F than with the highest E.”

In the April 17 afternoon program, Gregory Hall’s “Mysteria” will attempt to revive the lost art of classical piano improvisation, while composer Beth Wieman, clarinet, and Anatol Wieck, viola (with DVD), “play along” with the visual premise that “Crows Everywhere are Equally Black.”

The April 17 evening program also features the first concert performances of all six songs Daniel Sonenberg wrote for the play “Broken Morning” (2003) based on playwright Chiori Miyagawa’s research into the prison industry.

Finally, I once wrote a book exploring the thesis that the builders of Stonehenge were the same non-Indo-European tribe that settled the Basque region of Spain, a thesis explored on the guitar by Nathan Kolosko on April 18 in “The Myth of the Fomorians,” which poses the musical question: “What would the music of Ireland sound like if it were strongly influenced by the Moorish traditions of Northern Africa and Spain?”

 

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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