By Lawrence Budmen

The 2006 New Music Miami ISCM Festival opened last week with an infusion of recent chamber music scores. The Amernet String Quartet had the Herculean task of preparing five new quartets (including three Florida premieres) and came through with flying colors. 

With five composers present last Wednesday for the performance of their works, the FIU Wertheim Concert Hall took on the Bohemian ambience of an artist colony.

Joel Hoffman’s Quartet No.3 was a roller coaster of emotions. An insistent, minimalist figure opens the quartet and returns throughout the work. Haunting shadows imbue the night music of the second movement with the apocalyptic romantic aura of Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht. The fourth movement is a glowing elegy born on an endless mist of melody. Hoffman’s beautiful string writing and structural mastery carry the day. 

Frederick Kaufman’s Urban Quartet proved to be a real showstopper. This work is one of Kaufman’s best pieces. Frantic, ultra virtuosic string writing captures the sights and sounds of a metropolis’s urban pulse. Aaron Copland style lyricism leads to a sizzling viola cadenza and jazzy finale that is inflected with a hint of bluegrass. The Amernet foursome (violinists Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley de Arias, violist Michael Klotz, and cellist Javier Arias) reveled in the score’s high tech acrobatics and razzle dazzle pageantry. 

Inemiliz (Their Life) by Mexican composer Emmanuel Arias y Luna opens with rich chromaticism but soon reverts to the rhythmic urgency of Stravinsky in his Petrouchka mode. This wonderful cross cultural essay is skillfully overlaid with indigenous Aztec motifs. 

Next to the Hoffman, Kaufman, and Arias scores, Stephen Dankner’s Quartet No.7 seemed rather tame. A well crafted piece in the romantic vein of Barber, the score ultimately emerges as too much of a textbook exercise. 

Orlando Jacinto Garcia’s Cuatro is an atonal piece that evolves in slow, measured stasis. Influenced by Asian and non Western compositional techniques, Garcia’s score abounds in challenging timbres. 

The stylistic range of the concert’s five composers attests to the continuing vitality of musical creativity in the 21st century. 

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