You could argue that the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, nestled into the final week of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, is unnecessary, given the impressive amount of new music presented at the larger festival. But actually, its apparent superfluousness is one of its salient features. Instead of seeming like a new-music ghetto, set apart from the main festival so as not to disturb the worship of the classics, the Gamper Festival simply offers a sharper focus on recent works, in a handful of free concerts, through Sunday.

Derek Bermel, the composer who oversees the Bowdoin Festival’s composition department, has assembled the programs in recent years, and for this year’s opener, at Studzinski Recital Hall on Thursday evening, he chose seven works – two by composers born in 1948 (Dan Welcher and Paquito D’Rivera), the rest by composers born in the 1970s.

You could hardly wish for a more stylistically varied slate than Thursday evening’s program, which began with David Ludwig‘s “Pale Blue Dot” (2014), a string quartet inspired by a photograph of Earth, taken from a few billion miles away by the Voyager probe. Ludwig begins with a single note, played in unison, but with restlessly changing rhythms, and eventually giving way to a string of eerily quiet chords, against which the cello plays an assertive, sliding line.. The Ivani Quartet gave the work a focused reading that conveyed not only its mystery, but also a sense of the lonely desolation of space.

Andreia Pinto Correia built her “La Minotauromachie” (2009) around her impressions of Picasso’s Minotaur etchings, which she has imaginatively transformed into a pair of virtuosic movements for cello (Roberto Arundale) and piano (Amalia Rinehart). The music has an energetic, narrative quality, but the work’s most striking element is its use of sharply accented flamenco rhythms in its second movement.

The raw material for Paola Prestini‘s “Quiet, Listen” (2013) was drawn from recordings of two conversations, one with a friend in psychic pain, the other with the composer’s mother. But if you don’t actually hear much speaking in this psychodrama for cello, percussion and electronics, the solo cello line, which Prestini composed for her husband, former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler (who played it here), conveys the pain of her friend’s narrative.

Matthew Tommasini‘s “Towards the Wall” (2014) is a short showpiece for double bass. Max Mulpagano, with Minjung Seo on piano, tackled its technical demands with apparent ease and considerable lyricism. Andrew Norman, contributed “Mine Mime Meme” (2015), a prismatic piece for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion.


The works by the program’s oldest composers were no less vital than those of their colleagues born in the ’70s. In Welcher’s “The Moerae” (2005-’06) for winds and piano, theme fragments and bird call figures morphed attractively into long-line melodies. And D’Rivera’s “La Fleur de Cayenne” (2014), in a gracefully nuanced, high-energy reading by Bermel on clarinet (with Min Joo Yi at the piano), brought a hint of free-spirited Latin jazz to the program.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kozinn

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