Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival finale probes a cultural divide

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LENOX - The final concert in Tanglewood's Festival of Contemporary Music opened and closed with works featuring the ticking of a clock. Each piece was by a 20th-century master living in a Europe still trying to recover values and meaning in the aftermath of two devastating wars.

Together, the ominous ticking in the two pieces seemed to say: Time is running out.

Between these bookends came three 21st-century pieces, two of which reflected a current world of random, meaningless events. Is it too much to wonder if the recent pair of works, despite the composers' technical control, were as complex, random, polyglot and confused as the times themselves?

Together, the current pieces seemed to say: Embrace the cultural disconnect. It's all we've got.

Perhaps technical control is a way of getting a grip?

Stefan Asbury, coordinator of the Tanglewood Music Center's conductor training program, and student conductor Vinay Parmeswaran alternated in conducting the TMC Orchestra and guest artists in the Monday night concert. The playing, as always in these new-music bashes, reflected care and dedication.

To start, the players created a world of luminous mystery in Gy rgy Ligeti's "Clocks and Clouds," from 1972. An understated tick-tock and sustained cloudlike passages in the orchestra, joined by a 12-voice women's chorus (here, the versatile Lorelei Ensemble of Boston), sets up a quietly ominous mood. The women sing a softly blending, wordless, "imaginary" language evocative of Holst's "The Planets" or, perhaps, Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe." Five intertwining flutes seem to lead the orchestra through a questioning musical landscape.

For the conclusion, Asbury and the TMCO reprised Henri Dutilleux' 1997 "The shadows of time," a Boston Symphony Orchestra commission written mostly at Tanglewood.

The work resonates with grief — grief for Anne Frank and "all the innocent children." "Why us? "Why the Star" three childlike women's voices intone plaintively midway through.

Clocks tick insistently in the first and last of the six interconnected episodes. Every detail in the piece is precisely chiseled and placed, creating a sense of rightness, inevitability and tragedy — tragedy that nevertheless offers hope that humanity, through music and remembrances like this, can do better next time.

By contrast, the Icelandic Anna Thorvaldsdottir's "Hrim" (2010) and Huang Ruo's "Confluence" (2002), a chamber concerto, followed event after event without apparent connection or gesture. Irregularity ruled: irregularity of rhythm, irregularity of color, irregularity of expressive effect. Ruo interrupts an explosive climax with a few dulcet sounds from a water chime. A nod to forgotten beauty? To the past? Why?                                                                                                              

The exception to the 21st-century rule was Dai Fujikura's "Tocar y luchar"("touch and struggle"). It employed a symphony orchestra's traditional resources for slides, surges and clashes of sounds that culminated in Stravinsky-like furies.                                                                                               

It's hard to judge new works on a single hearing. Yet the morning after, the haunting, visionary world evoked by Ligeti and Dutilleux lingers in the mind more vividly than the others' reminders that to hear the world they evoke is to turn on the TV or watch people peering intently into miniature screens — to be plunged, in other words, back into a world of yelling chaos.

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