For its finale last night, the American International Clarinet festival moved back to the complementary ambiance of the Library of Congress, where an even more complementary audience gave three recent works a generous reception.
As far as the performances went, the receptions were entirely deserved. Charles Neidich gave a stylish, pointed and intense reading of Alvin Etler's Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Ensemble. For the solo role in Robert Parris' "Rite of Passage" for clarinet and chamber ensemble, James Hill was more introspective and less aggressive, but more involved with lyricism. And Stanley Drucker gave a masterful account of "Domaines" by Boulez. The American Camerata for New Music, under the direction of John Stevens, was a solid partner in all that transpired.
Some of the music, however, was another matter. Etler's concerto for clarinet, brass, double basses and lots of percussion is a noisy work, full of busy traffic and, in some spots, vulgar. The four movements end in a quick dance that is the most attractive movement of the lot.
The Boulez piece is more intriguing in concept than in fact. It is played in the round with the conductor surrounded by six small bands of instruments, while the solo clarinetist strolls from group to group. The piece is organized into two sections, the "original" and the "Mirror," in which things happen backwards, more or less. Unfortunately the musical material is so ungainly and uninteresting that the rest doesn't seem to matter.
The most interesting music on the program was the work by Paris. Scored for lots of percussion, electric guitar, harp, cello and bass, its three movements trace a ritualistic beginning, a gradual emergence of freedom, and an expression of uncertainty, returning at the end to the ritual. It is full of delicate sounds and nice ideas and deserved its bravos.