The intimate setting is suitable for the interpretation of works by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg
The Swedes, it seems, contribute more than their fair share of sanity to the global psyche. And Thursday night, Anders Hillborg’s assortment of chamber music – part of the Phillips Collection’s “Leading International Composers” series – seemed to reflect the country. That is, he was both intellectually engaging and warmly accessible, marked by a sort of playful and inclusive modernism that leaned on everything from Renaissance music to the pulse of rock.
Less forward-thinking individualism, in other words, than an embrace of the music community – right down to the seating arrangement of Phillips, who traded the usual strict rows for an intimate semi-circle around the performers. And although the first work was a rather majestic ‘opening fanfare’ (written for the Swedish Parliament, hence the majestic) performed by the Axiom Brass ensemble, the sense of open curiosity that permeates the music de Hillborg quickly appeared.
His 1998 ‘Brass Quintet’, for example, contrasted lazily smeared passages of notes with others of punchy and relentless power, while two fine works for string quartet drew intriguingly from composers from Stravinsky to Bach. In “Kongsgaard Variations” (built around the magnificent “Arietta” theme from Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Op. 111), Hillborg channeled Beethoven’s dramatic lyricism into a flowing meta style that effortlessly slipped from the dances of the Renaissance with the ultramodern coda which closed the work. The Calder Quartet delivered an expressive and deeply felt performance, as they did with the seven dark and meditative movements of Hillborg’s “Heisenberg Miniatures” in 2007.
The “Kongsgaard Variations” were the most revealing and impressive work of the evening. But there were also other delicacies. Clarinetist Moran Katz delivered powerful performances of several short works, from the spare staccato lines of “Tampere Raw” to the darting bird-like gestures of “The Peacock Moment”. His reading (with violinist Andrew Bulbrook) of “Primal Blues” was pure pleasure, as was “Close Up”, with recorded tablas providing the accompaniment.
But maybe it was pianist Amy Yang who stole the show. After joining Katz on “Tampere Raw”, she delivered a breathtaking read of “Corrente della Primavera”. A pianistic tour de force from 2002, the scintillating and white-heated sound cascades of the work demand both power and exceptional lightness of touch, and Yang has achieved it with effortless finesse; a memorable performance of a remarkable work.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled the pianist’s last name.