Often, programing new music with older works helps introduce progressive ideas by comparing them to familiar ideas from the past. Yet in these conservative times, the music of the past is often more iconoclastic than that of today’s composers.
Or so it seemed when the California E.A.R. Unit opened its second season in residence at the County Museum of Art on Wednesday night with two world premieres and three often-performed works from the early 1970s. The well-attended event in Bing Theater was the 100th concert by the nine-member ensemble.
Stephen Mosko’s “For Morton Feldman” displayed a carefully knit fabric of whimsical motivic structuring, delicately presented by a flute-piano-cello trio. The carefully constructed, skilled writing aptly reflected Mosko’s influences from the late Feldman, while rarely escaping a safe, academic style.
Dorothy Stone demonstrated deep understanding and dedication, performing on flute, bass flute and piccolo. Pianist Gaylord Mowry and cellist Erika Duke followed with equal devotion to detail.
In Rand Steiger’s “13 Loops,” an abundance of tremolos, trills and simple rhythms maintain different but regular pulses, resulting in a satisfying layering of elements, from a flute solo at the beginning through a final massed acceleration.
Again, Stone’s stunning flute work defined and carried most of the piece, while Mosko’s spare conducting of the seven-performer mixed ensemble also contributed. Steiger manned a setup emitting subtle electronic effects that most of the time remained in the background.
But most of the evening’s vitality rested in the older stuff. The music of Steve Reich, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Frederic Rzewski often shows up on the E.A.R. Unit’s programs, but this selection was especially good.
A surprisingly multifarious performance of Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” used five sets of different-size claves, filling the room with an intoxicatingly hypnotic pulse. The result was ebullient and accurate.
A laudable performance of Stockhausen’s “Tierkreis,” arranged routinely but appropriately by Art Jarvinen for the ensemble’s full forces, brought life to the enigmatic, singable melodies, while the repetitive patterns of Rzewski’s “Coming Together” exuded energy and power, making it the evening’s showstopper.