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MusicNOW offers world premiere of Anna Clyne’s ‘As Sudden Shut’

Updated: February 27, 2013 8:40PM



The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW offered a tight program to one of its largest and most youthful audiences Monday night at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Curators Anna Clyne and Mason Bates, each CSO Mead composers-in-residence, have clearly developed a following in Chicago. They blend brief but often spiky concerts with pre- and post-performance scenes at the Harris, the latter with free pizza and beer and musicians present. On May 10, they’ll also host their third Mercury Soul night at Metro nightclub in Wrigleyville. In addition to turning out works for the full CSO to play (Bates’ “Alternate Energy” has toured to good response with Riccardo Muti and the orchestra to California and Carnegie Hall), the two young artists have clearly fulfilled their mission to build up an interest among their contemporaries and those coming up behind them.

MusicNOW has also given young conductors a showcase in addition to its expert principal conductor Cliff Colnot. Chicago resident Edwin Outwater has had success with the concerts and American-Israeli Benjamin Shwartz, 33, currently shuttling between Germany and the United States was on the podium Monday for three of the four works. He displayed a combination of attractive easygoingness with a stick-to-the-score authority. And he doubled as a good commentator in a brief video introducing the evening’s longest work, “REMIX” by Austrian G.F. Haas.

The four works grew in length and numbers of players leading up to the Haas. A happily chugging 2011 4-minute string quartet by Dave Maric, 42, from the United Kingdom, “Run Chime” was a great, cleverly-crafted, curtain-raiser, and could find a place as an encore.

Veteran American Steven Stucky’s 17-minute Piano Quintet (2010) was, as with so much of the Cornell University professor’s work, attractive, hardly path-breaking; described by Stucky in his video intro as “surprising” and “alternating,” it’s pleasant enough but repetitive. CSO assistant principal cello Kenneth Olsen was first among equals.

Clyne offered a world premiere MusicNOW commission, “As Sudden Shut,” the first of what the British-born emigre hopes will be a cycle of five works based on Emily Dickinson poems. Here, three women from the CSO Chorus intoned Dickinson’s words about a passed door that opens to reveal lively goings-on inside and then, boom: shuts. A light, folklike sound and setting, reminiscent of Benjamin Britten, is set against the low, deep resonant sounds that Clyne often uses as a base or contrast. The 11-minute work spreads and repeats more than Dickinson’s famed economy of words. Perhaps other settings will be even tighter.

This is a big time for Haas in Chicago — at last. Thursday night the Austrian composer’s landmark “in vain” (2000) will be performed by the local ensemble dal niente at the Ruth Page Center on the Gold Coast, and May 7, the new music ensemble at DePaul University offers more of his time- and sound-bending works. “REMIX,” befitting its name, is a 25-minute mash-up of virtuosic snippets from earlier Haas works intended to come together in a “total sonority.” Shwartz seemed to supervise the many sonic car crashes precisely, and if no new ground was broken, a good time appeared to be had by all.

June 3 holds the final Harris concert of the season, with a Bates premiere and a work by Brazilian composer Marcos Balter of Columbia College.



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