SONIC Festival’s sounds of a new century enthrall New York

The latest edition of New Yorkand’s new-music festival, SONIC: Sounds of a New Century, featured recent works by over 80 composers under the age of 40.
If that doesnand’t sound like a tour-de-force, add that nine of those works were also world premieres (two commissioned by Carnegie Hall), and the compositions ranged from solo to orchestra — and three different orchestras at that.
The SONIC festival is an arm of the American Composers Orchestra (ACO), founded in New York in 1977, and which hosts a total of eight different creative programs and projects that incorporate effective strategies to introduce newly created music to audiences everywhere in this case, via 11 venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn from intimate to oversized, and ending with a grand finale at Carnegie Halland’s Zankel Hall.
Funded primarily by the esteemed Fromm Foundation based at Harvard University, SONICand’s second edition, held Oct. 15-23, was directed and curated by composerclarinetist Derek Bermel (who is also ACOand’s artistic director) who also make a credible effort to encompass a wider international focus within its proprietary American identity. Musicians from Mexico and the Netherlands were invited and joined the roster of hundreds of US-based musicians from all over the world (including Turkey native Cenk Ergandun) to perform 13 concerts (although one was cancelled because of visa issues).
Bermeland’s programming, assisted by composer Anna Clyne, pushed boundaries from traditional to technological, incorporating dance and improvisational theatre, and introduced new templates and innovations and hybrids thereof.
Journalist William Robin, in the festivaland’s program booklet, wrote that attempts to describe the music of the 21st century were nearly impossible. and”Over the summer, I [contacted] a half-dozen SONIC participants. Nearly all shied away from summarizing or categorizing the nascent century,and” he wrote. and”Indeed, that refusal to pigeonhole is itself indicative of a core value among younger composers … and an understanding that the ecosystem they inhabit is marked by diversity.and”
h2 Genius revealedh2 The fact that young composers were born into a technologically oriented society is tangential to that diversity, and the kind of fearless mix-it-up ingenuity this generation has, both stylistically and technologically, is part of the genius revealed throughout the festival.
Beginning with the first concert at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space within New Yorkand’s WQXR radio station. Reena Esmailand’s evanescent and”Tasveerand” shimmered with an exotic sound tapestry for clarinet, violin, cello and piano Viet Cuongand’s jazzy mandeacutelange of styles in and”Wax and Wireand” for the same instrumental quartet brilliantly described the feelings evoked by a piece of museum sculpture and Gity Razazand’s three miniatures for piano trio, and”A Prayer for the Abandoned,and” was inspired by the poetry of Jalandacircluddin Rumi. Here, the composer sensitively painted the Persian poetand’s mystical reverie about silence and unexpected loss. Five members of the ensemble from New Yorkand’s Copland House, led by pianist Michael Boriskin, performed these pieces with superb devotional acumen.
Laptop artist Ergandunand’s and”Comfort Dream Queen Memory,and” heard on the Oct. 18 program at Merkin Concert Hall near Lincoln Center, employed solo percussionist Jason Treuting of the SandO Percussion ensemble to create magic with mallet instruments, melodica and a pre-recorded track with a pixilated variety of industrial sounds, chiefly static. While that aspect could have been annoying and abrasive, it was quite the opposite: Its flowing vitality felt like interstellar communication signals that converged in a crescendo, then slowly deconstructed to a haunting silence.
On that same program, Jeff Myersand’s and”Requiem Aeternam,and” performed by the JACK Quartet and mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway, revealed a gorgeously multi-colored composition set to Filipino, Italian, German and English texts from poets and the Christian mass for the dead. Myersand’s use of pianissimo, breath and silence within the rich kaleidoscope of vocalism and subtle string writing produced a stunning work that deserves multiple hearings.
On Oct. 19, the four-member Dutch consort, Nieuw Amsterdams Peil, performed five delightfully original works, beginning with Joey Roukensand’s compelling piano trio and”Shadows and Bells.and” His intriguing description of the imagined emotional lives of people in a church used bits of sustained chorales interspersed with a more punchy and percussive language, created a taut and impassioned scenario.
The Los Angeles-based orchestra collective, wildUp, who performed the first of two concerts on Oct. 20 at Roulette in Brooklyn, win the prize for the most fearlessly inventive. Conducted by Christopher Rountree, their program of nine pieces revealed a uniquely gifted composer: Andrew McIntosh. His and”Yelling into the Windand” was a masterpiece of fascinating elements: a psychologically potent tonal vocabulary and an orchestration studded with delicate use of percussion and a solo piano part that covered a wide stylistic radius.
The grand finale in Carnegie Hall with ACO, titled and”Orchestra Underground: 21st Firsts,and” also revealed another highly original composer, Judah Adahi. His and”Sestinaand” for voice (sung affectingly by Caroline Shaw) and orchestra (conducted by George Manahan) intoned a six-word poem by Ciara Shuttleworth. The scoreand’s expertly crafted minimal elements, including Shawand’s unforced, limpid singing, matched the sparseness of the poetry. By means of a repeated modal scale, chordal patterns in the strings and delicate flourishes from the wind instruments, Adahi conveyed a sublimely drawn fragility.
It was iterated several times throughout the festival that it takes years for young composers to and”break out,and” or become known in their lifetime. In their critical partnership with the Fromm Foundationand’s mission, and under the aegis of the ACO, the SONIC festival is doing a yeomanand’s job to make that happen.