As Bowdoin festival winds down, contemporary music is the focus

You could argue that the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, nestled into the final week of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, is unnecessary, given the impressive amount of new music presented at the larger festival. But actually, its apparent superfluousness is one of its salient features. Instead of seeming like a new-music ghetto, set apart from the main festival so as not to disturb the worship of the classics, the Gamper Festival simply offers a sharper focus on recent works, in a handful of free concerts, through Sunday.

Derek Bermel, the composer who oversees the Bowdoin Festival’s composition department, has assembled the programs in recent years, and for this year’s opener, at Studzinski Recital Hall on Thursday evening, he chose seven works – two by composers born in 1948 (Dan Welcher and Paquito D’Rivera), the rest by composers born in the 1970s.

You could hardly wish for a more stylistically varied slate than Thursday evening’s program, which began with David Ludwig‘s “Pale Blue Dot” (2014), a string quartet inspired by a photograph of Earth, taken from a few billion miles away by the Voyager probe. Ludwig begins with a single note, played in unison, but with restlessly changing rhythms, and eventually giving way to a string of eerily quiet chords, against which the cello plays an assertive, sliding line.. The Ivani Quartet gave the work a focused reading that conveyed not only its mystery, but also a sense of the lonely desolation of space.

Andreia Pinto Correia built her “La Minotauromachie” (2009) around her impressions of Picasso’s Minotaur etchings, which she has imaginatively transformed into a pair of virtuosic movements for cello (Roberto Arundale) and piano (Amalia Rinehart). The music has an energetic, narrative quality, but the work’s most striking element is its use of sharply accented flamenco rhythms in its second movement.

The raw material for Paola Prestini‘s “Quiet, Listen” (2013) was…

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