A number of composers were simply themselves, as in Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's forthrightly affectionate, harmonically rich A Poem for Elliott. In contrast, Augusta Read Thomas departed from her tough modernist personality in Bells, written for two pianists playing a single instrument, one at the keyboard, one plucking strings beneath the lid. Spare, elegantly chosen notes created a spacious, rarefied world.
If there was anything Carteresque there, it was the miniature epic quality. Among the Carter pieces on the program, Lauds for solo violin and Con Leggerezza Pensosa (which was performed twice, the second time being more relaxed and marvelously revealing) pack worlds of expression into compressed, eventful time periods. In Tempus Carmenium, Maurice Wright took that idea further with a multi-episode suite including canonic counterpoint that unexpectedly led to a lovely, choralelike series of freestanding chords. More daringly terse was Jeremy Gill's superb Eliot Fragments, whose episodes jumped off from T.S. Eliot quotations to create stark, explosive sound pictures that went to extremes within seconds.
One such Eliot quotation, "In my end is my beginning," was the concert's unofficial talisman. Carter's musical narratives often conclude with the composer opening one final door, exclaiming "Ah!" but not entering. Consciously or not, others did the same: Though Uri Caine's 4 short pieces for 2 hands began engagingly like Thelonious Monk driving with brake failure, the final seconds cleared all wreckage to reveal elegant chords and dotted rhythms that intently expanded and contracted time. Alvin Curran's quasi-minimalist E Poi dropped its severe demeanor in the final seconds with an arresting flourish worthy of Rachmaninoff.
Not normally a contrarian, Jennifer Higdon, in Mr. Carter's Notes, grabbed gestures from Carter's sprint-paced Triple Duo, gently sat them down, and made them submit to an amiable, fruitful examination, though its final seconds had bass notes that telegraphed finality - a welcome switch.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at firstname.lastname@example.org.