The NY Phil's CONTACT! new-music series, now in its fourth season, has become something of a holiday ritual for New Yorkers—at least for those looking for an alternative from the endless parade of Messiah performances. (If you happen to like your Handel, the Phil can help you out there, too.) As in past years, last Friday's concert at the Met Museum included new works by young composers written for the occasion, as well as a contemporary "classic" that might appeal to the generation of subscribers who went to Pierre Boulez's Rug Concerts or Jacob Druckman's Horizons series.
Conspicuously missing this time out was conductor Alan Gilbert, who founded CONTACT! during his first season as the Phil's Music Director, and has since led most performances himself. Taking his place was Jayce Ogren: a young, unknown Washington State native who once served as Gilbert's apprentice while both were stationed in Stockholm. Ogren, himself a composer who once had his own Seattle-based band, told host John Schaefer that he feels most at home conducting new music.
The first three works on the program were all by composers in their early thirties, and seemed to follow the same sonic blueprint: loud, raucous beginning, and a slow fade at the end. Andy Akiho—best known for his steel pan music—wrote Oscillate for a small band of strings and percussion, including a piano that persistently plunked a single note over and over. Inspired by the troubled inventor-genius Nikola Tesla, Akiho's music was filled with scratches, clangs, and other unusual sounds that somehow managed to engage. (In the program notes, Akhio says he wrote the work in a sleepless three-day fit, much as Tesla himself might have done when conjuring one of his inventions.)