The Saturday night concert of the second annual Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival at Woodfords Church had something for everyone. As composer Elliott Schwartz said: “It was a wild night,” ranging from neo-Romantic piano music to super-aleatoric theater-cum-music by noted bass player Joshua DeScherer.

I’m not sure aleatoric — let the players do what they will — is the right term for DeScherer’s “Labyrinthine Trilogy, Book II,” since each member of the Bowdoin New Music Ensemble was given a playbook at random, dictating what actions they should take — reciting lines, moving music stands, shaking boxes or playing real or imaginary instruments — to make their way out of a labyrinth.

The piece did hold interest, in an open-jawed sort of way, and somehow evolved into “real” music, for piano, percussion, trumpet, clarinet and guitar, with DeScherer’s double bass playing (I thought) the role of the dragon in the maze.

The New Music Ensemble also gave a rousing performance of Schwartz’ new, 21st-century concerto grosso, “Round Robin,” replete with references to spring’s earliest visitor, including poetry, jazz, bird song and a piece of Edward MacDowell’s music that sounded better than it usually does.

Although the form is baroque — alternating solo, including prepared piano, with tutti sections — the mood is boisterous and jazzy, with Schwartz’s characteristic humor and a tape recording of Al Jolson.

The work will be performed again at Bowdoin on Sunday.

Maine composer Daniel Sonenberg was represented by a long and difficult trumpet Invocation, played by Abriel Ferreira, that began the program, followed by the concert premiere of six songs from the 2003 play, “Broken Morning.”

The songs, sung with clarity and feeling by Joey Valliere, tenor, and Jesslyn Thomas, soprano, accompanied on piano by Ian Scott, depict the feelings of children and spouses of death-row inmates, and are extremely affecting.

“About That Sweater,” in which a 16-year-old cherishes his mother’s hopeless attempt at knitting him a sweater, is best listened to in private.

This is an instance of contemporary music style meshing perfectly with content.

I enjoyed Robert Gans’ performance of his own “Dreamscapes: Five Piano Nocturnes,” virtuoso pieces in a neo-Romantic style that has deep roots in American music.

Gans is at his best when most daring, as in the opening “The Well of Souls,” which explores the possibilities of overtones resulting from fortissimo bass chords.

The three-concert festival, with admission by donation, was produced by the Portland Conservatory of Music.


Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at [email protected]


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