The nu ensemble gave a concert in our Watson Hall on Tuesday night. Ransom Wilson conducted four works: Steve Reich’s Eight Lines, John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons, Cindy McTee’s The Twittering Machine and John Orfe’s Oyster.

nu isn’t exactly new – the school’s contemporary ensemble has been called onyx, sace, and briefly, acme. But this was its first concert with the nu name, and considerable excitement had built up in anticipation of this performance – I was fielding phone calls from media outlets near and far in the weeks leading up to Tuesday night, and I lost count of how many students stopped me in the hall to talk about it.

The performance of the Reich was particularly tight and impressive – patterns folded one on the other in perfect synchronicity, which is crucial to making the textures really shimmer. The piece is an expansion, originally done at Ransom Wilson’s suggestion, of the earlier Octet. Live, the music is really gripping in a way recordings can never capture.

Another standout was McTee’s The Twittering Machine. McTee is a name I’ve heard for years, but without encountering any of her music. This piece was really excellent – the scoring was clear and succinct, the ideas were vivid and clearly audible, and the piece really knew what it was about.

And, of course, Adams’ Gnarly Buttons was very powerful. The first movement, truth be told, is not my cup of tea. That kind of cubist approach to shifting perspective on familiar objects – in this case, a 19th-century hymn – briefly appealed to me the first time I heard it done, but I haven’t been able to maintain interest. Probably more a comment on where I’m coming from as anything else. The second movement tickles my ear a bit more, and the final movement is gorgeous. The clarinet soloist was Igor Begelman, sadly giving his final performance on the faculty here. I’ve written about him before: he’s a very special player. I’m very sorry this is his last year here — but he gave us a farewell to remember.

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