If you thought contemporary classical music was thorny, academic stuff — well, okay, a lot of it is. But there are plenty of serious composers writing exciting and accessible music as well, as the hip, young ensemble eighth blackbird proved on Friday night at the Library of Congress. The group had titled the program “Still Life,” but it was hard to find anything still or even slow-moving about it; this was some of the most kinetic, exuberant and purely pleasurable music to be found anywhere.
The 30-year-old Missy Mazzoli is the current darling of the new-music world, and her mesmerizing “Still Life With Avalanche” showed why. Mazzoli writes pulse-driven music based on fairly simple materials but delights in pulling the rug out from under listeners with unexpected shifts of color and strange, elusive harmonies. “Still Life” was more delectable than powerful (think “Still Life With Snow Flurry”) but was still an involving and very moving work. Philippe Hurel’s 1996 piece “. . . a mesure,” though, was the genuine avalanche; a highly caffeinated virtuoso piece that may have contained more actual notes than the rest of the evening combined. Exhilarating, stunningly beautiful and brilliant in every sense, it’s a steamroller not to be missed.
Philip Glass wrote “Music in Similar Motion” in 1969, the heyday of minimalism, and the piece is pure Glass: repetitive and repetitive and repetitive. It was followed by the world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s “Netsuke,” six miniatures for violin and piano that, like the tiny carved Japanese figures that are their namesakes, were beautifully crafted, often grotesque, a bit arcane and not to every taste. But Hartke’s wit came out much more clearly in “Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays,” a colorful work brought off with intelligence and style by the blackbirds, who played spectacularly throughout the evening.