DAMARISCOTTA – Some music festivals give lip service to contemporary music, just playing the notes. The musicians of the Salt Bay Chamberfest are passionate and enthusiastic about it, which makes all the difference in the world.
The enthusiasm was evident at the final concert of the festival, held Friday at Round Top’s Darrows Barn.
A capacity audience enjoyed the world premiere of “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” by Roger Zare (b. 1985); Sebastian Currier’s award-winning “Static” (2003), and the final work of Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), his Piano Quartet in A Major, Op. 30.
Zare’s “Electrodynamics,” a musical portrait of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, is not only clever but also good music, played appreciatively by Steven Copes, violin, Edward Arron, cello, Conor Nelson, flute, Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinet, and Pedja Muzijevik, piano.
The composer, who was in the audience, writes: “One of the main revelations of (Einstein’s) theory is that time is relative to motion. The faster an object is moving, the slower its time appears to be going to a stationary observer. This difference in the rate of time is called time dilation and forms the basis of my composition.
“Beginning slowly and ethereally, the music gradually coalesces and begins to accelerate. As this acceleration reaches a frenetic speed, the instruments begin to pull apart, some speeding away and others becoming slower and heavier.”
Unlike some modern compositions, this one sounds better than it reads. The “objects” appear to be planets, each individualized, and one cannot help thinking of Gustav Holst. They occasionally come together in an ensemble like the music of the spheres. At the end they rise up and vanish at warp speed.
The same combination of instruments appears in Currier’s “Static,” which can mean either “non-moving” or “an interruption of a meaningful transmission by white noise or other interference.”
The piano dominates this work, perhaps because of its chameleon-like nature. It can provide all sorts of interruptions or stay in one spot while seeming to move, like a composition by Philip Glass.
Somehow, the six-movement piece, brilliant in its inventiveness, manages to hold together through use of repeated motifs and instrumental timbre. Currier’s chord writing is superlative; in some passages, he is able to make them sound as if underlined.
The final movement, “Floating,” brings back snatches of former themes, like fragments of speech heard between the static on an old shortwave radio.
After intermission came the Chausson, a dark, late-Romantic work full of passionate intensity and a plethora of melodies, which sometimes become an embarrassment of riches.
While often as exciting as a Rachmaninoff concerto, as in the piano chords over strings in the second movement, the intensity can become tedious when prolonged, like an aria sung entirely fortissimo.
The performance itself was spectacular, and earned a long standing ovation.
Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: