The music of the much awarded and recorded Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino tends to stay in the barely-there range with only the occasional outburst. But based on the three works a crowd heard Thursday night at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, those sounds conveyed a host of emotions.
Rather than focus on actual tones, rhythm or harmony, Sciarrino goes for color and effect specific to the instruments he writes for, which for this concert included flutes, oboe, violin, viola, clarinets, cello, keyboards, percussion, and voice. Nicholas DeMaison ably conducted eight of these instrumentalists and the remarkable vocalist Amanda DeBoer Bartlett. They gave disciplined and committed performances of all three works.
Poetry supported two of the offerings: “Lo Spazio Inverso” (1985) and the pretty terrific “L’Altro Giardino” (2009). “Infinito Nero” (1998) was based on the true story of 16th century saint Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, who took a vow of chastity at 10 and entered a convent at 16 to devote her life to self-torture. Maria experienced raptures during which she would be mute only to spew out torrents of words. A team of nuns followed her and recorded these outbursts. At her death at 41, she was considered a celebrity and was canonized in 1669. Sciarrino’s piece simulated these experiences between silence and vocalisms with Bartlett singing/speaking frenzied Italian.
“Lo Spazio Inverso” was for five instruments. The clarinet repeatedly and softly played two overtones; the violin had harmonics; the flutist blew air over the mouthpiece, when suddenly the celesta played a few fiery phrases before things settled back to violin tremolos, bent notes and some flute flutter tonguing. It was like a commentary with sound inserted into bars of silence.
“Infinito Nero” for seven players and voice involved these sounds interspersed with so much silence that you could hear your blood running through your head if you weren’t nodding off. Yet when Bartlett let loose she was seductive, anxious, longing.
“L’Altro Giardino” for everyone was the best conceptually. With a faster tempo, effects were closer together with more interactive color, and Bartlett could soar with beautiful sounds even as she sighed, crooned, and queried. It was a conversation: The bass drum rumbled; the bass flute hooted; the clarinet clacked keys; the pianist tinkled high treble notes; the violin sighed; and the tam tam throbbed to the end.