DAMARISCOTTA — The focus of the opening concert of the Salt Bay Chamberfest on Tuesday night at the Round Top Center for the Arts was the U.S. premiere of “knock, breathe, shine” by conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The new work, played by cellist Wilhelmina Smith, founder of the Chamberfest, is a fantastically difficult work that has been described by the composer as “juggling three chain saws.”

Smith, before playing it, said it was more like a chainsaw, a fireball and an egg, which describes aptly its mixture of jagged edges, intensity and delicacy.

Salonen’s compositions, while distinctly “modern,” flirt with tonality, and reveal unexplored instrumental possibilities without resorting to gimmicks. Just the sound, of what seemed like triple or quadruple stops, is enough to captivate an audience into a willing suspension of disbelief.

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