Saturday night, the New York Woodwind Quintet gave the second U.S. performance of Evis Sammoutis’s Metallaxis here. Sammoutis is a 28-year-old Greek composer who moved to England in 1998, where he now teaches composition and guitar. The piece showcases a lot of the standard extended techniques, some of which are more effective than others, but uses them in a way that is more closely integrated with a central artistic vision than is often the case. In other words, the piece is more than a smorgasbord of individual dishes – all of the gestures emanate from the implications of the title, which is the ancient Greek word for transmutation. The piece also engages in some word play with the title, giving the horn a central role as a “metal axis” around which the other instruments revolve.

A good work for (as I’ve noted before) a challenging combination.

The really splendid piece on the program was Pavel Haas’s quintet. Haas, a Jewish composer from Czechoslovakia, died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. This piece, written when he was about thirty, is really terrific stuff, with glimpses of Janacek, Moravian modalities and Jewish liturgical music. The third movement is hilarious, and the second is sneak-up-on-you gorgeous.

Because of various travel issues, we had to completely revise the schedule for the quintet’s visit at the last minute, so I didn’t get the opportunity to spend as much time with the musicians as I had hoped. Despite that, though, one of the highlights for me was a very pleasant 4 am chat with Carol Wincenc about quintets, Italian boys’ names that end in A, and teenagers.

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