The three-day Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music (July 26, 28 and 29), at the end of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, is always fascinating, but Saturday night’s concert at Studzinski Recital Hall was something out of the ordinary.

It included not only the world premiere of Elliott Schwartz’s “Remembering David: Echo Variations,” a performance of Hainu Tan’s “Hunting Fireflies,” winner of the 2012 BIMF composition competition, and alumnus Richard Francis’ long-anticipated Violin Sonata, but also superb performances of some of the masterworks of the 20th-century canon.

The Schwartz work, a memorial to composer David Gamper, one of his students, is among his most moving compositions. It seemed almost like a seance with Gamper’s spirit, in its highly effective use of tapes made during his final year at Bowdoin, in 1969-70.

Schwartz erects a monumental framework for the transformed tapes, using clarinet, horn, cello and piano to develop themes based on the letters of Gamper’s name.

When the taped fragments appear, their entrance is almost imperceptible, as if they were the continuation of the “live” music. The last, cleverly altered tape offers an eerie rendition of “Over the Rainbow” by the Bowdoin Bachelors a cappella singers, formed by Gamper.

Adding to the spiritual atmosphere are quotations from Bach and hymn tunes that fall into place as if they were written for the occasion. One striking feature of electronic music is an instant climax. One moment the taped music, controlled by Francis, is slowly dying away, and then instantaneously it vanishes, leaving a moment of perfect silence — something almost impossible to achieve with live instruments.

The program opened with a wonderful series of miniatures by Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag. Their moods ranged from an eerie “feerie d’automne” through the lively violence of “Games,” and ending with a striking “Perpetuum mobile.” All were played with verve and virtuosity and rapport by John Henry Kruer, violin; Dimitri Murrath, viola; and Susanna Mendlow, cello.

Francis’ Violin Sonata, I, was well worth waiting for; fast moving, dense and imaginative. It was given a royal introduction by Micah Gangwer, violin and Miki Sawada, piano.

Following intermission was a “Nocturne” for solo violin by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, played by her daughter, Aliisa Neige Barriere, a student at this year’s festival. The highly atmospheric and fiendishly difficult work shows what Bach might have done with the musical freedom of a modern composer. Barriere gave it what I consider a matchless performance.

Tan’s “Hunting Fireflies,” for marimba, vibraphone, xylophone and cymbals, was descriptive and highly innovative in its combinations of the percussive instruments, but went on a little too long for an ensemble with a limited range of timbre.

The rhythmical drive of Michael Lee’s “Farewell” for conducted string quartet, reminded me of the Francis sonata, but Lee adds some traditional harmonic touches that are both surprising and inevitable.

The evening ended with an incredible “Spinoff” by Charles Wuorinen, with Janet Sung, violin; Kurt Muroki, double bass; and Luke Rinderknect, congas. It begins as a lively trio, with the congas serving effectively as a viola-like middle voice. Gradually the spinoff begins, with the congas assuming a more and more dominant role, until it becomes a concerto for congas, with some of the most virtuosic drumming and polyrhythms that I have heard this side of Gene Krupa.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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