Whatever Augusta Read Thomas programmed for Tanglewood's 45th Festival of Contemporary Music was inevitably going to be a letdown from last year's wall-to-wall Elliott Carter fest. Yet, in many ways, it was a relief to have the FCM return to its original purpose: to promote the works of living composers, through performances and workshops with TMC fellows. To her credit, Thomas - the Chicago Symphony's former Composer-In-Residence - didn't discriminate in her programming, including works from both the modernist and new music camps.
As with the TMC's Die Meistersinger four weeks ago, the most incredible thing about these performances is the facility with which these young fellows - most in their early 20's - perform this intensely challenging music, most of which has never been recorded. On Friday's program, Nolan Pearson played in and outside the piano on Mattthias Pintscher's Lieder and Snow-pictures (2001) while Artem Belogurov used Beat Furrer's Voicelessness (1986) to create a hushed, anharmonic cloud. Even David Lang made his way onto the program with Illumination Rounds (1981) for violin and piano; guess the TMC finally got over that "Banglewood" thing. (The concert concluded with Oliver Knussen's Requiem - Songs for Sue: a dense, astringent work that featured soprano Danya Katok, backed by a chamber orchestra.)
Saturday's concert kicked off with the world premiere of Jacob Bancks' Rapid Transit: a thrilling ensemble work inspired by the Chicago El train (where he lives) and cut from the same cloth as Louis Andriessen's minimalist classic Workers Union. Boston-based David Rakowski's Piano Etudes were played by a pair of pianists - including an awesome performance by Gregory DeTurk that ranged from sensitive to explosive. And Makiko Hirata gave a strong reading of Judd Greenstein's Boulez Is Alive (2006), which he wrote in backhanded "tribute" to Boulez, incorporating many of the older composer's jumping meters and mercurial dynamics. (For those who may not know, Judd is one of NYC's more prominent new music exponents, directing both the NOW Ensemble and New Amsterdam Records, in between composing and other ventures.)
And, just in case you didn't get enough Elliott last year, the grand old man makes a return tonight with the world premiere of his Zukofsky Songs for clarinet and piano, featuring Lucy Shelton and BSO Associate Principal Thomas Martin. Unfortunately, I can't stick around for that one, but I bet it'll be about as far a cry from Goodman as you can get. (More pics below.)