Contemporary music has been an important component of the Bowdoin International Music Festival from the time it was founded, in 1964, and 20th and 21st century works are spread through its programs alongside works of earlier eras. But for listeners who want their new music straight, with no Baroque, Classical or Romantic chasers, Bowdoin also offers a festival within the festival – the Charles E. Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, established in 1965. This year’s installment, which was assembled by Derek Bermel, the main festival’s composer in residence, ran from Thursday to Sunday and included 16 works in three concerts.

The programs, performed mostly by students with faculty joining in occasionally, all looked promising, with scores by composers whose recent works have made them worth keeping tabs on – among them, Robert Sirota, Mason Bates and Kati Agócs on the first concert, and Marcos Balter, Olli Mustonen and Bright Sheng on the second. Other obligations prevented me from hearing those performances, but I caught the finale Sunday at the Studzinski Recital Hall.

In some ways, it was the most inviting of all, not least because it included a work by Bermel, whose clarinet quintet was a highlight of one of the main festival’s concerts, as well as a piece by the Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say, who has been in the news recently for non-musical reasons: He was convicted of blasphemy by a Turkish court because comments he posted on Twitter – including a quotation from the 11th-century Persian poet Omer Khayyam – were deemed insulting to Islam. (He was given a 10-month suspended sentence.)

Say, who was born in 1970, has been a fascinating figure since the mid-1990s, when he began his career as a virtuoso pianist. He emerged as a composer a bit later, although as it turns out, he had been writing large-scale works since he was 14.

His four-movement Sonata for violin and piano (1997), which closed the program, is a fairly conservative work, in the sense that it thrives on graceful, sometimes soaring violin melodies, played here with ample warmth by Seo Hee Min. That is particularly true of the outer movements, which share some material, including a theme that seems to allude, briefly, to the Brahms “Hungarian Dance No. 1.”

Not that you would mistake it for outright Romanticism. Its piano writing, offered in an appealingly fluid account by Tao Lin, moves freely between easygoing consonance and harmonic haziness. Say draws on a range of effects. In the second movement, a sharp-edged pizzicato violin line chases after the brisk piano writing, and the third is intense, busy and thick-textured, with the piano punctuating the proceedings.

Still, the return to the opening movement’s unabashed melodic sweetness in the finale gives the piece its most memorable qualities.

Each half of the program began with a work that explores more tactile, riotous sounds. In both cases, the composers made their aims clear in their titles. In “Klang,” scored for two pianos and percussion, Pierre Jalbert uses bell tones – those produced by actual bells (part of the percussionist’s arsenal) as well as bell-like sounds produced on the piano, xylophone and vibraphone – as his canvas. But the piece is not just a collection of ringing sound effects. Jalbert’s textures, tempos and moods shift constantly, and he gives both his pianists (Ann Schaefer and Petya Stavreva) and his percussionist (Noah Rosen) harmonically meaty, thoughtfully shaped material.

Margaret Brouwer’s “Shattered Glass,” for flute, cello, piano and percussion, is similarly picturesque, and it, too, ranges freely, sometimes evoking the spiky, pointillistic qualities that its title suggests, but elsewhere offering dreamy, impressionistic passages that suggest a slow-motion film of glass shattering. The percussionist, Grant Hoechst, was the star here, for the sheer array of timbres he had available to him, and the vitality he bought to his performance.

If keyboard and percussion held the spotlight in the Jalbert and Brouwer works, winds took it over in George Perle’s “BassoonMusic” and Bermel’s “Twin Trio.” The Perle, one of the last pieces the composer completed before he died in 2009, was as advertised. It was concise, athletic and couched in both long-lined melodies and contrasting running figures. The piece probes the bassoon’s limits with energy and character, and Dillon Meacham, the bassoonist, made the most of the opportunities for display that Perle provided.

Bermel’s “Twin Trio” was inspired by the fraternal twins of another composer, Aaron Kernis. Fascinated by the twins’ similarities and differences, Bermel captured those qualities in a work scored for two winds – flute and clarinet – and piano, the latter providing a sort of punctuation and background commentary to the similar-but-different wind lines. The flute and clarinet lines sometimes weave around each other contrapuntally, but usually travel in tandem.

The back story about Kernis’ twins is hardly necessary to enjoying the piece, but once you know it – Bermel related it as an introduction to the performance – the music’s wry humor becomes clearer. Bermel, who is also a fine clarinetist, played the clarinet line. Beomjae Kim was the spirited flutist, and Elinor Freer was the pianist.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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