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Contemporary Chamber Players

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CONTEMPORARY CHAMBER PLAYERS

Last spring, when during a Contemporary Chamber Players concert music director Stephen Mosko took ill and stumbled from the podium, he might as well have been dramatizing the troubles that had been plaguing the city's most venerable presenter of contemporary music. At the end of the CCP's 1995-'96 season, founder Ralph Shapey had been forced to retire just as the ensemble's decades-old lump-sum grant from the Fromm Foundation ran out. The group then seemed rudderless: the University of Chicago music department, its parent institution, had all but orphaned it, and Mosko, who commuted to Chicago from a post at Cal Arts, couldn't oversee programming himself. But now the U. of C. has established a committee to take over the CCP's artistic direction--with the aim of focusing on new works by university faculty and grad students--and installed as conductor Cliff Colnot, formerly an unofficial new-music adviser to the CSO. The open-eared and politically savvy Colnot will kick off the CCP's 35th season with a concert heavy on midwestern composers--in contrast to both the departed Mosko's west-coast tilt and the group's historic eastern bias. The bill includes works by Roosevelt University's Robert Lombardo, Cleveland composer Dennis Eberhard, and U. of C. newcomer Marta Ptaszynska. Lombardo's mandolin concerto Orpheus and the Maenads is an obvious highlight, especially since Dimitris Marinos will play the lead, but it's Ptaszynska's compositions I find most distinctive and entrancing. A student of Lutoslawski who moved to the U.S. in the early 70s, she regularly returns to her native Poland to work, as her frequent use of atonal techniques, poetic texts, and central European folk idioms attests. She's a percussionist as well as a composer, with a fondness for the marimba, and though her music suffers from rare lapses into overrepetition, its catchy, pointillistic rhythms, vivid colors, and intricate architecture always win me over in the end. Un Grand Sommeil Noir (1977), to be performed by mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, flutist Mary Stolper, and harpist Alison Attar, uses a Paul Verlaine poem sung alternately in French and English to represent two intertwined but distinct states of mind; it has a delicate, drowsy feel, like a barely recalled dream. Also on the program are works by Mario Davidovsky, Bernard Rands, and, curiously, Bach. Friday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-7300.

TED SHEN

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