After 34 years on the job, you expect more than a gold watch, and Linda Reichert, stepping down as Network for New Music's artistic director, got something more valuable and durable. Sunday afternoon at the Settlement Music School Queen Village branch, she and a warm, embracing audience were presented with nine new works commissioned to honor her era as one of the city's chief stimulants of new music.
If it was a farewell symphony of new sounds, only some of the music telegraphed impending loss or an overt sense of celebration. The emotional details are, of course, subjective. But several of the works paused on a sense of tender resignation as Reichert's time ends and that of her successor, composer and guitarist Thomas Schuttenhelm, begins.
The instrumental forces varied from solo piano to small chamber ensemble — with, interestingly, not a single vocal work among them.
Reichert is a pianist, and several composers honored her by writing for that instrument. John Harbison's Nocturne was at the serious end of the spectrum. It had a searching quality, suggesting what it feels like to move down an uncertain path lit only with flashes of light. The task of playing it fell to Reichert herself, and her playing only highlighted what it's meant to have such a sensitive performing artist in the position of curator all these years.
All the other music was played for Reichert. The composers were just some of the dozens whom she has gathered around this group over the years. They formed not a single compositional school of thought, though a certain friendliness prevailed.
Andrea Clearfield played her Widening Circles, with its Ravel-like haunts and echoes and, indeed, the suggestion of ripples moving through water. Bernard Rands' beautiful Impromptu #4, played by pianist Susan Nowicki, opened with something that could have been late Debussy. Maurice Wright's solo-piano Souvenir, played by Charles Abramovic, was concise, but still managed to tell an entire tale, often unfolding in a gentle voice. It had the ring of a highly personal message.
Reichert's high energy, her urgency, came through in Richard Wernick's Toccatina, short and tuneful. Melinda Wagner kept us guessing at musical quotes in her dancerly Linda! Linda!
Augusta Read Thomas' Acrobats, for an instrumental quintet of winds, strings, and piano, was a sprint of sorts, long on coiled, jumpy tension. Jennifer Higdon's Notes of Gratitude, played by pianist Matthew Bengtson, pursued two ideas simultaneously — an underlying rosy glow of happiness juxtaposed with a more rhythmic, driving gesture.
Michael Hersch played excerpts from his own The Vanishing Pavilions, from 2005 (Nos. XII and XIX) — works not commissioned for this concert, but from 2005 — and his music provided an aesthetic counterpoint to much of the other material. Unsettled, with periodic razor-sharp outbursts, he provided the afternoon's astringent.
Gareth Haynes, the impressive winner of Network's student composition competition, offered the aesthetic opposite with his slightly expressionistic Poème.
For complexity and subtlety of message, James Primosch's Two Sketches captured quite a lot. Scored for piano, violin, cello, clarinet, and flute/piccolo, the work's first movement lurked. The second announced itself with a four-note figure that grew into other ideas. It was a capstone of the best kind, conveying the feeling of freedom and ease, an innocent sense of discovery — coveted ideals for any artist headed off into the scary free-form of reinvention.