MUSIC REVIEW : A Night of Affirmation for New Music

It doesn’t take long to get to know the regulars in the slim ranks of contemporary music groups in Southern California, and Xtet has certainly carved out a new music niche for itself. This entity can be chameleonic, too: X factors govern the size, instrumentation and stylistic bent.

Friday at Harbor College, the Xtet forces were smallish, never larger than a quartet, and the repertoire easy on the ear. Here was a rarity--a new music concert with no world premieres. It was a night of pleasant affirmation rather than tested convictions or bracing insights.

To open, Lou Harrison’s Varied Trio of 1986 basked in exotic beauty, between violinist Elizabeth Baker’s mellifluous playing, pianist Vicki Ray’s typical lucidity and percussionist David Johnson’s understated performance on bowls and pans in addition to bona fide drums. Scottish composer Judith Weir’s “Distance and Enchantment” evokes the rustic narrative flair of folk tales with sad endings.

Hindemith’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, played with heroic spirit if not perfect execution by violist Kazi Pitelka, is an essay in fractured Romanticism. Swerving from key to key, it now sounds oddly out of balance, at once bold and ambivalent. Clarinetist Emily Bernstein joined the stage for Bartok’s “Contrasts,” co-commissioned by Benny Goodman. With its folk-cum-modern spirit, the work barrels forward, goosed by a rugged wit.


The concert’s freshest sounds came from Donald Crockett’s 1988 dreamily lyrical “To Be Sung on the Water,” for violin and viola, whose parts slip in and out of sync with each other. Silences provide breath and shape, sometimes suggesting Morton Feldman’s airy designs and sometimes a kind of accidental Gothic Americana.