Review: A Bristly Interloper in Music’s Dog Days

Review: A Bristly Interloper in Music’s Dog Days

Over the past few years, there’s been an interloper in the dog days of summer, a period when the concert season slows to a trickle. The Time Spans festival, put on since 2015 by the Earle Brown Music Foundation Charitable Trust, has filled a bare corner of the New York calendar — not with seasonal pops, but with contemporary music of the most dense, bristly and brilliant variety.

This year’s festival has been the most expansive yet, extending to Battery Park City; an outdoor walk with headphones designed to amplify electromagnetic fields; and to the Goethe-Institut near Union Square, where the pianist Marino Formenti is in residence, literally — he’s living there while performing for 12 hours a day.

Mr. Formenti’s marathon continues through Aug. 28, but the final concert on the festival’s main series was Wednesday at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Midtown, featuring the piano-percussion quartet Yarn/Wire and the Talea Ensemble in music by composers with ties to Canada, a theme of this year’s Time Spans.

Immaculately fiery, Talea has been a Time Spans regular, and the group — conducted here by Lorraine Vaillancourt, a veteran of Montreal’s new-music scene — had the most arresting, wild material on Wednesday. Denys Bouliane’s “Rythmes et Échos des Rivages Anticostiens” (2009) begins by recasting lulling, almost ceremonial rhythms with grating textures. Those rhythms egg themselves on into frantic territory, then into a relentless, trudging march that vanishes, leaving spidery light pizzicato in low strings, like a dance heard from the other side of a wall.

Whispery winds and tapping on instruments — like an abstraction or pencil sketch of a dance — give way to a raucous percussion solo, atop which the piano and high strings enter with icy precision, the conclusion of a piece that richly contrasts hot and cold, earthy and spectral.

Nikolaj Korndorf’s “Music for Owen Underhill and his Magnificent Eight” (1997), for a small but highly potent ensemble, opens in a pummeling mood, with swirls of woodwinds rising off an angry musical dust storm. Pounding on the piano — really, really pounding — gives way to the forlorn, almost inaudible tolling of a bell.

A quiet, yearning melody in the bass flute, with Copland-style openness, is surprising, though it has a sliding, slippery undercurrent. Then a low rumble, and squiggles in the winds, build the chaos again before a siren dies down to let out a calm phrase that’s passed around before a final, funny drum thwack, the punch line to a serious joke.

Linda Catlin Smith’s “Knotted Silk” (1999), by comparison, had the feel of a serene miniature — dominated, simply yet elegantly, by held notes punctuated with unison chords. In Claude Vivier’s “Pulau Dewata” (1977), Yarn/Wire brought out the music’s contrast between curtly cutting off notes and letting them resonate; Michael Oesterle’s “Carrousel” (2013), though a bit more upbeat than the Vivier, shared its meditative mood, adding a glockenspiel for a more candied color.

Time Spans Festival

Continues through Aug. 28; timespans.org.

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