Although its title suggests geo-cultural all-inclusiveness, Southwest Chamber Music’s ambitious new LA International New Music Festival — which opened Wednesday at Zipper Hall — arrives with certain GPS parameters in check. As founder/director/conductor Jeff von der Schmidt explains, the festival’s perspective grew out of his operation’s recent travels and collaborations in Vietnam and Mexico, awakening interest in contemporary music from Asia and Latin America. In a sense, the festival offers an equal time focus, far from the Euro-centric crowd.
Wednesday’s program championed such selective globalism, framed by music of Korean composer Hyo-shin Na and Vietnamese composer V¿ Nhât Tân. Na’s “Ocean Shore 2” moves from delicate, pentatonic lines strewn across its quartet with peaceable poise to gradually tenser turf, partly via a narrated passage decrying American xenophobia. Tân‘s muscularly evocative “Ký Úc” (“memory “) wraps a core quartet with percussive forces (Lynn Vartan and David Johnson, plus pianist Genevieve Lee)and deftly juggles assertions and waves of energy, both improvised and scored.
Gabriela Ortiz’s intriguing “Rio de las Mariposas,” played by dual harpists Alison Bjorkedal and Allison Allport, flanking Vartan on the dreamily metallic steel drum, is a lyrical work tinged by subtle dissonances, linking harp traditions from Europe and her native Veracruz. Violinist Shalini Vijayan, a lucid dynamo, proved a captivating soloist on Kurt Rohde’s Concertino for Violin & Small Ensemble, a three-movement piece with shimmering textures and churning, rolling tensions. The visceral meets the cerebral, artfully.
Though fortified with premieres of various flavors, this program’s strongest work was Korean-born, Berlin-based Unsuk Chin’s 1991 “Akrostichon-Wortspiel (Acrostic-Wordplay).” Commanding, expressively game soprano Elissa Johnston played protagonist of an absurdist text with roots in “Alice in Wonderland.” She was a spotlighted figure before a taut eight-piece ensemble, navigating the entrancingly complex beast of a score, but one with a discernible sense of flex and playfulness.
LA International New Music Festival, Southwest Chamber Music, Zipper Hall, Colburn School, downtown L.A. 8 p.m. Saturday, May 21 and 26. $38. Information: 800-726-7147 or www.swmusic.org