Timothy Weiss and Orchestra 2001 at Christ Church: An exploration of contemporary music

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Timothy Weiss led Orchestra 2001 in a program of contemporary music on March 19-20, 2015. Photo: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Anyone interested in the future of new music in the city might have paid close attention to Timothy Weiss' dates last weekend with Orchestra 2001.

The ensemble's search for a new artistic leader hasn't exactly gone as planned - snow prevented one candidate's appearance, and another withdrew - but Weiss reminded listeners this was less a search for conducting competence than for taste.

It's safe to consider Sunday night's program at Christ Church Neighborhood House an expression of Weiss' interest in a particular aesthetic. There is no prevailing school of composition today; new music is a kaleidoscope of specializations within a specialization. The Oberlin Conservatory professor's selection of Bernard Rands, Steven Stucky, and Stephen Hartke - plus one younger composer who studied with Jacob Druckman and Steven Mackey - leaned toward the academic-establishment branch of composition.

Another candidate, Jayce Ogren, used his September appearance for academics, but also to look back with Louis Andriessen's Workers Union, and, by including a work by Julia Wolfe, to an earlier work by a composer very much of the moment. Ryan McAdams' weather-thwarted program would have been a fascinating stylistic panorama: Unsuk Chin, Sean Shepherd, Joan Tower, Pierre Boulez, John Luther Adams, and Frederic Rzewski.

Despite not having been able to reschedule McAdams' program, 2001 still plans to announce its choice for artistic director no later than May.

Both in his preparation of the ensemble and in the clarity of his technique, Weiss was impressive. Immaculate attention to details was required - and received. Rands' . . . in the receding mist . . . (1988) brought together violin, viola, cello, flute, and harp in a tight fabric of colors and gestures over a steady beat. It came with a French sensibility, subtly suggested by violinist Elizabeth Kaderabek, violist Ellen Trainer, cellist Amy Sue Barston, flutist Kimberly Trolier, and harpist Rong Tan.

I was less taken with the other works on the program, often stronger on novel techniques than any actual compositional inspiration. Five Memos (2010) by Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez was full of jumpy gestures, a stop-and-go affair of dissonance and drive. Stucky's Boston Fancies (1985) had a sinister edge, a darkness that either scurried around or grew lugubrious.

Hartke's Meanwhile (2007), subtitled Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays, uses all manner of sound techniques - a muffled prepared piano (played expertly by Charles Abramovic), a cellist who hits her strings with a stick, and a battery of percussion that includes a prominent role for cartoonish flexatones. The piece won a Grammy in 2013. Innovation? I suppose. Something to make the audience feel involved? For sure. Beyond that, though, the piece seemed slim.

pdobrin@phillynews.com

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