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Review: Present Music's 'Equinox' aglow with promise, sounds of spring

Present Music marked the arrival of spring and the lengthening of days at Turner Hall Ballroom with "Equinox," a contemplative musical rumination on illumination.

Friday's program featured sacred pieces, secular works, visual art and a world premiere, all centered on a theme of light and/or springtime. The pieces made a gradual progression, from an introspective, serious opening through gradually changing moods and colors to a lighthearted, playful finale.

The Present Music ensemble musicians opened with Osvaldo Golijov's 2002 slow, lyrical "Tenebrae" (Latin for shadows, or darkness). They performed the piece with the hall aglow from the lights clipped to the musician's stand and a single candle, which was extinguished as the piece concluded.

The ensemble, conducted by artistic director Kevin Stalheim and joined at times by Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, Chelsie Probst, Christina Kay and Amy Hartsough of the Hearing Voices vocal ensemble, performed most of the program's first half lighted by the glow of those music-stand lights.

Aulis Sallinen's gently pulsing "Winter Was Hard" segued into the warm pure sounds of the Hearing Voices women for St. Ambrose's "O Lux Beata Trinitas," moving to John Luther Adams' amorphous "The Light Within," John Tavener's "One Who Has Slept," with members of Hearing Voices, and Ken Thomson's insistent, heavily amplified "Thaw."

The program's second half opened with David Lang's "Evening Morning Day," followed without pause by the world premiere of American composer Molly Joyce's "Luminescence." Built of musical and sonic juxtapositions and contrasts, the piece offered a musical contemplation of craving, or reaching for, light.

The final two pieces on the program, Elena Kats Chernin's "Spring," featuring freewheeling, bluegrass-infused violin solos played by Margot Schwartz, and Astor Piazzolla's compelling tango "Primavera Porteña" ("Buenos Aires Spring"), featuring spicy violin solos played by Eric Segnitz, were up-tempo harbingers of the coming warmth and sunlight.

The concert ended with a lighthearted ode to the coming summer, as vocalist Jack Rodee joined the ensemble for "Here Comes the Sun." Audience members sang and clapped along, while keeping a huge yellow balloon aloft above their head.


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