Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 28, 2021

REVIEW: Festival of Contemporary Music, Fromm Concert

Festival of Contemporary Music, Tanglewood Music Center, Lenox, MA 
July 25-26, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

Looking for some summer fun? Try a Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music concert. While that might not be everyone’s first instinct, there was no cooler place to be on a warm recent Berkshire afternoon than the Koussevitzky Music Shed.

Named for longtime new music patron Paul Fromm, this year’s annual Fromm Concert showcased a wild variety of music by six living composers from five countries, played and led mostly by talented student musicians of the Tanglewood Music Center. It opened with Danish composer Per Norgard’s brief 1988 tribute “Hut Ab!” [“Hat Off!”] (which “must not exceed one minute,” he cautioned) to a Danish new music festival director, exuberantly played by TMC clarinetists Jakob Lenhardt and Sangwon Lee.

A five-piece ensemble next presented African-American composer Jeffrey Mumford’s shimmering 2008 suite of eight short (one-to three-minute) movements, “a garden of flourishing paths,” honoring his teacher Elliot Carter and reflecting the West Garden Court of Washington’s National Gallery of Art, with sensitive leadership by TMC conducting fellow Adam Hickox. This was followed by Englishman (and Festival Director) Thomas Ades’s multi-layered 1994 “The Origin of the Harp,” impeccably rendered by nine players under the sure hand of TMC conducting faculty head Stefan Asbury.

The last three pieces on the program featured two pianos. Five selections from Hungarian Gyorgy Kurtag’s “Jatekok” (“Games”), written since 1973, were brilliantly played by TMC pianist Mathilde Handelsman and New England Conservatory faculty member Stephen Drury (joined hauntingly in one piece by TMC offstage hornist Xin He). Handelsman and TMC pianist Barry Tan performed Scottish composer Judith Weir’s rhapsodic 1990 “Ardnamurchan Point” with color and flair.
Andrew Norman

American Andrew Norman’s riotous 2015 “Frank’s House” (evoking the angular designs of architect Frank Gehry) brought the house down, so to speak, as TMC percussionists Ben Cornavaca and David Riccobono nimbly tore into a daunting array of instruments while pianists Drury and Yukiko Takagi playfully mixed quotes from Brahms’ “Liebeslieder Waltzes” with suggestions of Bartok and Messiaen. Rarely have musicians had so much visible fun on stage.

Three of the composers (Mumford, Ades, and Norman) were present and happily acknowledged the audience’s joyful applause.