Like many groups specializing in contemporary music, the New York New Music Ensemble is an aggregate, a sort of umbrella organization for highly skilled, committed soloists and duetists.
Unlike most such groups, however, the New Yorkers seem to do their best work as a unit. At least that was the case at the Monday Evening Concert, this week in Bing Theater of the County Museum of Art.
Charles Wuorinen's "New York Notes" was composed specifically for the ensemble. A three-movement updating of the concerto grosso idea, it is a quixotically tuneful, rhythmically pert act of musical imagination, particularly in the kaleidoscopic but tautly structured first movement.
The deft scoring recognizes the ensemble as pairs--violin/cello (Mary Rowell and Chris Finckel), clarinet/flute (Jean Kopperud and Jayn Rosenfeld), piano/percussion (Cameron Grant and Daniel Druckman)--which can be recombined in all possible doublings. Founder Robert Black conducted the balanced, poised performance.
The "Triple Duo" by Elliott Carter works similarly with shifting instrumental alliances, though more fragmented melodically and more nervous in character. The ensemble's reading, also led by Black, proved apt and witty, though seemingly ruffled in cohesion near the end.
For various reasons, the other works on the program did not make the persuasive connections that the ensemble efforts achieved. Finckel's uncompromisingly attenuated playing of Webern's Three Small Pieces, Opus 11, with Black at the piano, was repeatedly interrupted by late-comers. Rosenfeld and Druckman took long pauses between the short sections of Ingolf Dahl's Duettino Concertante, and mechanical adjustments of snares also intruded into their otherwise brisk, stylish account.
Jacob Druckman's "Animus III" certainly commanded attention with its strident theatrics, including frequent, flamboyant lighting changes. Kopperud gave everything the composer obviously asked for in the way of overacting, as a slightly jazzy, mostly neurotic clarinetist beset by the rude noises of a loudly active tape part.
But the forces impelling this descent into musical madness were never made clear, at least in part because little of Kopperud's addresses to the audience could be heard through the burbling and hooting of the electronic Spike Jones.
If enigmatic, allusive ambiguity was Druckman's intent, it was served to the point of defusing all interest and caring.