Last night's "Discovery" concert by members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, David Zinman, was the most interesting musical event (so far) of the season. The concert, which was presented in Friedberg Hall at the Peabody Conservatory, let the voices of four interesting composers be heard.
Perhaps the most sophisticated and finished of these composers was Tod Machover, whose "Towards the Center" was performed. This is a work that combines the composer's "hyperinstruments" -- in this case computer-extended electronic percussion and keyboard -- with several acoustic instruments.
It's a lovely piece in three movements played without break. The outer movements are infectious and propulsive -- imagine one of Claude Bolling's jazz suites, but with much more class and complexity -- and the middle movement is dreamy.
Bringing Machover's beautiful instrumental textures to life is no easy task. Zinman must have sweated more in this 20 minute piece than in Mahler's 80-minute "Symphony of a Thousand." Each of the instruments is written in different meters -- the slow movement must have been a particular nightmare for the conductor and the players -- and the last movement's thick counterpoint could have occasioned a pileup. The performance was wonderful.
Kamran Ince's "Hammer Music" and Michael Daugherty's "MXYZPTLK" were just as much fun to listen to. The latter -- which draws its title from the imp in "Superman" comics whose uninvited visits from the fifth dimension create havoc in Metropolis -- is actually a concerto for two flutes and chamber orchestra.
Daugherty's music has a lightness, a litheness and a wit that brings Poulenc to mind. Daugherty ends the piece with a percussionist's snap and -- such is is his skill -- that's how easy he makes writing music seem. The fine soloists were Emily Controulis and Mark Sparks.
I remember liking Kamran Ince's "Before Infrared" last year at a BSO subscription concert in Meyerhoff; I loved last night's "Hammer Music." A strong south wind from the Mediterranean blows through Ince's music -- he was raised in Turkey -- but there is a spaciousness about his music that reminds me of Copland or of Nielsen at their best. He's a composer who's not afraid to take risks and his full-throated lyricism rarely fails to soar.
I don't know what to say about William Doerrfeld's "Thrust" for keyboards, brass and percussion. If David Berkowitz was the "Son of Sam" killer then perhaps one can say that the 27-year-old Doerrfeld is the "Son of Chip Rouse" composer -- such is the younger man's love of high energy and decibel levels. His "Thrust" is a perpetual motion piece that batters its audience into submission long before it is over.