If new music is the game, then Birmingham Contemporary Music Group is the name.
This jewel in Birmingham’s cultural crown (although some might describe it differently) has given more than 160 premieres since 1987 – and here we heard five more, plus a repeat of Marc-André Dalbavie’s Palimpseste from 2002.
This accessible piece was certainly worth revisiting, its spatially-conceived sonorities (flute and clarinet in the gallery are used to reflect and echo proceedings below) executed with delicate vitality and tonal nuances, especially by pianist Malcolm Wilson, whose quiet brilliance was adeptly employed both inside the instrument and on the keys.
Indeed, much of the evening was marked by unfazed virtuosity from the 16 BCMG regulars (French conductor Franck Ollu held everything together with authorative, finger-led precision), even when some of the music offered few rewards.
Ivo Nilsson’s Doppler Wobbler was such an example, especially for viola and bassoon soloists Christopher Yates and Gretha Tuls, where repeated cross-string arpeggios (Yates) and isolated long notes (Tuls) substituted for variety and imagination.
Nilsson’s other premiered work, Rapidità, seemed almost by a different composer, lighter in mood, inventively scored – and commendably short. Not as short, though, as an Etude by Frédéric Durieux, which in three minutes offered little more than an assorted fragment of rhythmic ideas.
The longest composition, Jetzt genau!, by Pascal Dusapin, was something of a ‘colour’ piece, using swabs of instrumental sound against a questing solo piano. Here, Nicolas Hodges brought impressive sensitivity and technical brilliance to its demands, particularly in a frenetic jazz-influenced episode that brought Nancarrow to mind.
Allain Gaussin’s Mosaïque Céleste was definitely the most satisfying work of all, displaying transparent scoring (Gaussin has a wonderful ear for timbre and balance) and an ability to develop, rather than just manipulate, his material. Exactly what you would expect from someone in his 70s.