Voices of Change, a Dallas-based chamber ensemble that primarily presents contemporary works, held its latest concert this Sunday afternoon at City Performance Hall. It was an exciting change in venue for the group, which normally performs at Southern Methodist University’s Caruth Auditorium, but the concert was ultimately defined by poor programming and spotty execution.

The most avant-garde works this afternoon were the strongest, both compositionally and in their realization. The concert began in promising fashion with Manuel Rocha Iturbide’s Semi No Koe for Flute and Tape, and the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano by Donald Martino. The title Semi No Koe comes from the last line of a haiku by 17th century poet Matsuo Bashō, and means “the locusts’ trill”. Flutist Helen Blackburn tackled with aplomb all manner of extended techniques, which combined with the background tape to sound like an open field at dusk. Particularly striking was a series of hard consonant sounds (chkshkchk…) rendered by Ms. Blackburn with blistering speed and clarity.

The Martino trio followed, and was the clear highlight of today’s concert. Martino’s freely atonal score is bursting with energy and structured with masterful dramatic pacing. Joined by clarinetist Paul Garner and cellist Kari Nostbakken, pianist Gabriel Sanchez was the glue that held this thorny piece together, as well as the work’s strongest advocate. Although the ensemble sometimes sounded tentative, there were some menacing blooms in intensity, and pointillistic sections were appropriately pithy. This was an unapologetic work, equal parts severe and passionate, and its admirable interpretation here left me wishing the remainder of the program had been similarly daring.

Joaquín Turina’s Piano Trio no. 1, by far the most conventional work on the program, also received the weakest performance. Maria Schleuning, violinist and artistic director of Voices of Change, spun out the occasional phrase with gusto, but without much help form her collaborators she was essentially playing into a vacuum, her efforts left to dissipate in mid-air. Pianist Liudmila Georgievskaya had a propensity to rush ahead, at one point losing the two string players momentarily, but even in her most metronomic playing there was very little communication with the other performers. I was further perplexed that the New Music Ensemble of Dallas would program the work to begin with, and found it an odd addition to this afternoon’s concert.

Aside from the Turina, the other highly accessible works on the program – Arvo Pärt’s hypnotic Spiegel im Spiegel and Vivian Fung’s The Billy Collins Suite – were decently performed, and were certainly not unpleasant to hear. Three dancers from Contemporary Ballet Dallas (Erin Boone, Jaclyn Poole, and Lea Essmyer) performed the choreography of Valerie Shelton Tabor, which played heavily on the “mirrors” of Pärt’s German title. All three would begin a passage in unison before their steps and gestures diverged slightly, suggesting the notion of perception misrepresenting reality. It was a valid, if obvious, statement to make alongside Pärt’s warm brand of minimalism, although I’d have to see this work danced again to be completely persuaded.

The Billy Collins Suite, music set to accompany the recitation of three Collins poems, was a bit repetitive, and also derivative; indeed, no sooner had the coda of “Man in the Moon” piqued my interest than my companion and I exchanged glances, realizing it was a quotation from the opening of Schoenberg’s Mondnacht. The frequent references to circles in the text of “Insomnia” were predictably reflected in the music through the use of quasi-minimalist, repetitive swirling figures. Narrator Laurie Shulman (who serves as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s program annotator, and wrote the notes for this concert as well) forged a meaningful progression in “Insomnia”, from remonstrative, to frustrated, to resigned. Shulman deadpanned “The Willies”, a poem jokingly bemoaning the unpleasant reaction provoked by “electric chairs, raw meat…public restrooms”, in a mock-clinical tone, to great effect. But such redeeming points aside, I didn’t find these three pieces particularly inventive or meaningful. It was a strange and disappointing ending to a concert which similarly disappointed.

**111