Music from Copland House performs at the Bowdoin International Music Festival on Sunday in Studzinski Recital Hall on the Brunswick college campus. Photo by Niles Singer

Festivals within festivals have the Bowdoin College campus humming again.

The Bowdoin International Music Festival has long included the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music for those with a taste for hearing some of the best composed music created in recent times. For this special year of returning to in-person concerts, the Bowdoin/Gamper folks secured a visit from Music from Copland House, the resident ensemble at Aaron Copland’s National Landmark home in New York.

The casually dressed group, which champions “established and rising creators of all backgrounds and identities,” presented a sort of mini festival of its own titled “Crossings” on Sunday afternoon. The program included diverse pieces encompassing a rich variety of sounds and styles.

Pianist Michael Boriskin, who introduced the six pieces in the program, referred to the theme of a journey that united the program. It proved a fulfilling expedition with Boriskin, Isabel Lepanto Gleicher (flute), Derek Bermel (clarinet), Siwoo Kim (violin) and Alexis Pia Gerlach (cello) exhibiting technically fine playing combined with a spirit of venturing into less-traveled sonic realms.

“Petroushskates” by Joan Tower (b. 1938), as the title might imply, playfully mashed up the rhythmic drive of a vintage work by Igor Stravinsky with Tower’s stated love of figure skating. Ebullient, driven and a little slippery, the music swirled while holding to the edges of its inspiration in the expressiveness of early modern music. The striking mix of flute with clarinet was particularly bracing.

A composition by Annika Socolofsky (b. 1990), “to sing of sins,” added the recorded vocals of Irish folk singer Iarla Ó Leonáird intoning a mournful Celtic poem. With Kim sitting out, the remaining onstage quartet embellished a somber, tolling piano part with just enough color. The cello and clarinet provided particularly emotive peaks.


“Crossings,” by Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967), who was in attendance, is based on a French-Canadian folk song and seeks to suggest a migratory passage. One might think of Stravinsky again at times during the more assertive sections. But the loveliness of its inspiration was most clearly expressed by a repeated elegiac line from the violin.

Traveling on, the second part of the program began with “Thulathi,” a work by Saad Haddad (b. 1992) that explored the composer’s interest in combining Middle Eastern and Western musical traditions. The piano/violin/cello trio for this piece dampened and bent notes in a piece that challenged the ears on its seemingly non-linear travels within the moment.

“Fractured Water,” by Shawn Okpebholo (b. 1981), combined jazzy flights by flute/piano/cello with added percussion as each player employed a small plastic tub of water with objects therein to produce various types of aquatic sounds. The mix of organic with man-made, including a bit of humming, emphasized that it should not be such a long journey back (or forward) to reclaim our important resources.

The concert ended on a spirited note with “Tango Trio” by Miguel del Águila (b. 1957). As Boriskin noted, the title tells it all. A trio of piano, violin and cello leaned hard into the passion associated with South American tango music. The threesome built a mounting intensity toward a crescendo that seemed to leave most listeners in a good place after an enriching musical journey.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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