Contempo presents a valuable look at the work of five cutting-edge female composers | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Contempo presents a valuable look at the work of five cutting-edge female composers


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Contempo, the long-running new-music organization at the University of Chicago, casts a welcome light on five important female composers from Europe with this rigorous program performed by locals Ensemble dal Niente and the Kontras Quartet along with Polish pianist Pawel Checinski, expat Moldovan bayan virtuoso Stas Venglevski, and mezzo-­soprano Kayleigh Butcher, a founding member of Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. While the connective tissue between the pieces doesn’t extend much beyond gender, geography, and modernist impulses, they undeniably share a dark power. Included are Sofia Gubaidulina’s sorrowful Songs of the Gallows, where the Russian composer uses the accordion-like bayan to express folkloric elements, and the bracing String Quartet by Polish-Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin, who though now based in Boston has spent most of her professional life in Austria and Germany. The program also features Aer by influential Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, a lush piece for large ensemble and electronics that’s part of her 1991 ballet Maa. But I’m most excited about the work of two women with whom I wasn’t previously familiar. Piano Quintet no. 1 by pioneering Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz is a luxuriously somber and expressive blend of piano and strings that incorporates folk dances in its charged rhythms, while Sandschleifen by Germany’s Isabel Mundry (at 53 the youngest of the featured composers) is a dynamically rich tightrope walk for string trio, piano, and percussion.   v

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