The resonant acoustic of the University Church at USC flattered the "Chapel Music" performed by the USC Contemporary Music Ensemble Tuesday evening--even such an irrelevant distraction as Berio's "Sequenza I," ably played by flutist Ann Erwin. Not surprisingly, however, the spiritual dimension of the New Music L.A. program was most apparent in the works with texts.
Frederick Lesemann's "Alleluia . . . In Domo Per Saecula" was composed specifically for this concert, down to the choice of a medieval Latin hymn text appropriate to the liturgical calendar. Both the composer and soprano Rebecca Sherburn paid careful attention to textual point, including accentuation and word-painting.
The USC faculty composer also used the sanctuary effectively, dispersing a brass trio in the chancel and balcony. The gently pulsing, quasi-minimalist antiphonal accompaniment was smoothly blended by the room into a supportive web for the high-soaring vocal line, intertwined with Mike Grego's dancing clarinet obbligato. Donald Crockett led this solid premiere performance.
"Samuel Chapter" by L.A. Philharmonic composer-in-residence John Harbison proved a musically and dramatically gripping setting of Samuel I, Chapter 3. An intense, truly sonorous work in every respect, it benefited from the clear, rapt musical storytelling of soprano Lisa Stidham. Under Crockett's guidance, the supporting sextet illuminated both form and narrative in a West Coast premiere.
Scott Rea, a USC student, explains his title "Seek Tine in Wrath" as a riddle. Musically, the work is a meditative, luminously scored, minimalistic rearrangement of a Bach chorale, although the spiritual focus seems more a matter of association than substance. Crockett directed 15 instrumentalists deftly.
Stidham sang the local premiere of Stephen Hartke's evocative "Iglesia Abandonada" with plangent control, pertinently seconded by violinist Michelle Makarski. Peter Maxwell Davies' setting of Psalm 124 completed the program.