During a few wistful moments, short melodic phrases in a natural minor scale sigh atop mellow harmonies. These seemingly conventional passages actually came across as reflective stops on the promised odyssey through chaos and beauty.
The concert at National Sawdust on Monday was the last in the Contact! series, inaugurated by Alan Gilbert at the start of his tenure as the Philharmonic’s music director in 2009. The program book mentioned two new-music initiatives that the Philharmonic will introduce next season, under Jaap van Zweden, to take its place. Maybe some fresh thinking is in order, because Monday’s program was, by the end, downright gimmicky.
For all its modesty, Denis Khorov’s “Barcarolle” for flute, clarinet, cello and piano was for me the most rewarding piece. The music doesn’t exactly evoke a lapping, lyrical barcarolle; rather, it seems to recall one, in fractured phrases and hazy harmonies.
The vocalist Ethan Hayden gave a tour de force performance of Dmitri Kourliandski’s “Voice-Off,” a bizarre piece involving nasal grunts, gurgling sounds and other effects. It was amazing to hear, but very silly. Not as silly, though, as Alexander Khubeev’s “Ghost of Dystopia,” scored for various muffled instruments but dominated by the conductor (here Jeffrey Milarsky), who, with plastic bowls and cups attached by strings to his arms and legs, scrapes the dinnerware over Plexiglas sheets to produce all kinds of scratching sounds.
At Geffen Hall, “Metacosmos” was the highlight, but the rest of the Philharmonic’s program was devoted to Beethoven. In the Third Piano Concerto, the soloist was the brilliant British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, who played a demanding part with crisp articulation, beautiful shadings, keen attention to inner voices and tremendous imagination. Then Mr. Salonen led an Apollonian account of the “Eroica” Symphony, fleet and vigorous, yet stealthy and full of a fellow composer’s insights into the music’s inner workings.