When Debussy was soaking up the sounds of the gamelan, when Mahler was devouring Chinese poetry in translation, how could either have dreamed that East-West convergences would gather as much momentum as they have a century later? Monday night at the Corcoran Gallery, the Contemporary Music Forum provoked plenty of thought about such musical exchanges.
Toru Takemitsu's receptiveness to Western ideas has been rewarded with ample commissions. "Orion," his duet for cello and piano, explores a variety of string timbres in both tonal and post-tonal idioms. Cellist Lori Barnet and pianist Mark Markham cut a clear path through this dense piece.
A world apart from Takemitsu's conservative idioms is the more obscure Toshiro Mayuzumi, whose one-movement string quartet "Prelude" was the evening's most exciting discovery. Positioned around the auditorium, the quartet spun out vibrato-less, glassy timbres so that each part was heard independently. "Prelude" is a subversive piece -- not only because of its unconventional sounds, but also because of its rejection of the happy "ensemble" conception of the string quartet and its liberties with the flow of time.
Also inspired by the timbre of her instrument, the marimba, Keiko Abe makes use of an ostinato pattern in the treble in her "Dream of the Cherry Blossom." The piece's transparent structure made it accessible, but more contrived-sounding. Randall Eyles performed the piece from memory.
With its seven poems ending with an ancient drinking song, John Anthony Lennon's "Seven Translations" evokes a tinge of the ecstatic frenzy of Mahler's "Song of the Earth." Pamela Jordan, the Forum's trusted expert in contemporary vocal music, was not in top form. In the first piece, the climactic high notes were sloppy, without edge.