Duke New Music Ensemble [dnme] and featured guest ensemble Duo Amantis performed at Baldwin Auditorium. Directed by Jamie Keesecker [dnme] performs newly minted as well as lesser-known compositions from the 20th and 21st centuries. This performance included works by Duson Bogdanovic, David Kirkland Garner, Jeffrey Holmes, Stephen Jaffe, Pauline Oliveros, Miroslav Tadić, and Toru Takemitsu.

[dnme] opened the concert with Pauline Oliveros’ classic 1980 piece, ‘The Witness.’ Scored for soloist and an imaginary partner or ensemble up to 100, it is the ideal test piece for the newly renovated hall. Oliveros’ work trains us to listen. Like taking a walk in the woods, I was surprised and delighted by sound coming from unexpected places and by the clarity of small details: a percussionist’s brush strokes, a horn in the balcony, and a sudden change in dynamics. Fully awake, my ears tuned to new sounds, I was ready.

Most of the program was dedicated to works for flute and guitar. Michael Kudirka performed two compositions for solo guitar by contemporaries Dusan Bogdanovic (b.1955) and Stephen Jaffe (b.1954). Coming from worlds apart, their musical languages are as different as night and day. Bogdanovic’s “Unconscious in Brazil” (1994) mixes elements of Western classical guitar style with the swing of Brazilian dance music creating a lovely counterpoint. Jaffe’s vibrant “Spinoff” (1997), on the other hand, springs from his own unique, colorful language. Kudirka, who played with confidence and zest, made them both work.

The centerpieces of the concert were works by Toru Takemitsu (1930-96). Considered the “father” of contemporary Asian music, Takemitsu blended experimental sound with elements of native folk music. Flutists Tara Schwab and Heidi Wait, a [dnme] member, shared the stage performing Masque (I Continuo and II Incidental) (1959). Jolting combinations of pitch and sudden contrasts in texture and dynamics make for challenges for players and listeners. With beautiful phrasing, amazing breath control and technical finesse over the “yin and yang,” Schwab’s and Wait’s performances were exhilarating.

Duo Amantis next performed Takemitsu’s 1981 “Toward the Sea.” Commissioned by Greenpeace, the composer twists the knife forcing us to look at our own whaling history out of New England.

They also played two contemporary pieces: Miroslav Tadić‘s beautiful Four Macedonian Pieces (2009) and Jeffrey Holmes’ Nastrond (2007). Holmes’ composition, named for the Norse mythology, features contrasting sonic events. Its characteristics include dramatic increases in pitch and dynamic; descending passages, some including third tones; and long periods of stasis that suggest many shades of gray. The guitar sometimes imitates and sometimes creates tension through opposing musical gestures. Technically demanding and musically fascinating, Nastrond is a signature piece. This performance was exceptional.

Duo Amantis joined [dnme] for David Kirkland Garner’s “Problem#next” (2013). With the feel of West Coast minimalism and spiced with a bit of humor, this energetic piece has staying power. The composer conducted, and he looked pleased!

The [dnme] will return in the spring. Stay tuned!