"This music is crazy," remarked one audience member to another at the American Camerata for New Music's performance yesterday afternoon at the University of the District of Columbia Auditorium. The fact that she----along with a small contingent of students, faculty members and others----was present, and actively reacting to a program of Webern, Dallapiccola and other challenging twentieth20th-century composers, is significant in itself. Atonal, dissonant music doesn't cozy up to a listener; much of it requires intense concentration and retention.

A fine ensemble like the American Camerata, however, makes the effort worthwhile.

For this particular presentation, Didirector John Stevens drew upon a varied assortment of players, instruments and works. First there was Luigi Dallapiccola's "Piccola Musica Notturna",," a dank, rather melancholy piece in which tones seep slowly from a gathering of flute, harp, violin, bass clarinet, cello and piano. Darkness and anger prevailed in Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's "Chamber Symphony," a multi-llayered, schizoid creation that draws on the composer's response to her violinist husband's sudden death.

Anton Webern's cerebral, but often wry, "Quartett, op. 22," which sets up a disjointed, bracing conversation between piano, violin, clarinet and----surprise!----tenor sax, received a clever performance, ; but his "Five Canons",," for soprano and clarinets, proved a bit too austere. Area composer Robert Hall Lewis' erratic "Divertimento for Six Instruments" relied on the sliding, plucking, and rattling abilities of its interpreters. And just when the listener began craving rhythmic vitality----something lacking in most of these works----the ensemble launched into Stravinsky's marvelous "Septet",," a piece that conjures up some wild, buzzing hive.