Charged with programing and performing a special chamber music program for the Seattle Symphony, to be titled “Bernstein & Beyond,” Philippe Quint took the beyond to mean an invigorating menu of Henry Cowell, Lukas Foss, Alyssa Weinberg, David Rozenblatt, Mason Bates and James Lee III. Quint introduced each piece from the stage, telling why he had chosen the music, the friendships and concerts involved. “It’s great to play music by people who are alive for people who are alive,” he said, in a nod to the hip Seattle audience.

Philippe Quint © Jeff Gerew
Philippe Quint
© Jeff Gerew
Even if he hadn’t said a word, he would have had the audience with him from the start, the way in which in pianist Jessica Choe’s arms, he curled into the opening bars of Henry Cowell's Suite. Like all the music on the program, Cowell’s ten minutes of diverse attitudes were written to make the violin sound beautiful in new ways and in different combinations with other instruments; in Cowell’s case that meant a hint of Diabelli here and Handel there. It was just the right thing for deliciously intimate Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall.

Quint and Choe did the same after intermission with a meticulous performance of Lukas Foss’ magical Three American Pieces, grounded in the same tonal populism that Bernard Herrmann had drawn on for his Oscar-winning score to The Devil and Daniel Webster. Quint grinned along with the audience when the fast music in the “Early Song” began, then floated some sublimely high notes in “Dedication”, winning cheers at the end of “Composer’s Holiday” for more barn-burning fiddling.

Leonard Bernstein’s Piano Trio was a similarly happy discovery, in which Quint and Choe were joined by cellist Meeka Quan DiLorenzo. It was written in Bernstein’s late teens, when he was learning from Dimitri Mitropoulos about how profoundly integrity defines every artist, whether composer or performer, and especially both together. Appropriately, Quint and his colleagues brought  a proud and powerful swing to the denouement of the first movement, totally owned the goofy “Tempo di marcia” (could it be a rip-off of Beethoven’s Trio Op.44?), and charmed the heck out of the final few minutes. It is a very attractive piece, and knowing Bernstein wrote it when he was just a kid, makes it irresistible.

Of the 21st-century composers, David Rozenblatt stole the show. His Dispute in Conclusion Unplugged, for flute, string trio and piano, was inspired by Shakespeare's Othello, Rozenblatt writes: “For Iago, there was first love, in and of itself beautiful, until the point at which it was overwhelmed.” Which meant flutist Judy Washburn Kriewall rising flute-like out of a muddy harmonic sea, blending with the ensemble through various moods and episodes, including intoxicating fiddle tunes (a recurrent American theme) and a naïve fugue which could well have been love; this was followed by an intricate system of repeating epigrams, a flute cadenza, and climactic gnashing of teeth and gears which left the audience breathless before they shouted a collective “Wow!” At only nine minutes long, it still encompassed a lot of emotional space whose construction and maintenance required dazzling musical chops and authentic commitment from the musicians.

There were lots of amiable moments in Mason Bates's Life of Birds, written for that most rara avis itself, a quartet made up of  flute, clarinet, violin and cello. The music’s ambling gait provided continuity through six short miniatures, each featuring the addictively florid warblings of Kriewall and clarinetist Laura DeLuca. There were also amiable non-warbling contributions, like an exquisite whole note legato by Quint and a well-timed ringtone from the audience. After ending with a playful birdlike scherzo, Bates returned to the rhythms of everyday life with a cocktail lounge-type chord. An intimate knowledge of Bates’ program notes would have helped ardent bird-watchers.

The non-representational moods and heavyweight emotional dimensions of Alyssa Weinberg’s three-way dialogue for clarinet, violin and piano called Contemplations were haunted by Schoenberg, and divided into three untitled movements and one with the title, “The Sick Moon”. The first had violin harmonics, scratches, screechings and pizz before the clarinet started emerging. “The Sick Moon” was slow and meditative; towards the end, pianist Choe reached inside her Steinway and stroked a few low piano strings to further mute the mood. The third movement featured a furious boogie-woogie piano riff that had Quint counting furiously before wrapping things up in an intermittent moto perpetuo. In the fourth, slow wails descended into something klezmerish.

The last piece on a very long concert was the most profound in its needs from both musicians and audience. James Lee III wrote Night Visions of Kippur for the Ritz Chamber Players (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) who in 2012 gave the first performance at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall. Its forceful, hurtling rhythms, leavened by contemplative interludes, focused on issues of exodus and identity raised and illuminated by searingly theatrical depictions of the “flying lions, thrones and opened books” from The Book of Daniel. The theme spoke to Seattle’s own sprawling diversity at multiple cross-cultural and ethnic levels; it could have spoken to Quint’s own life far from his homeland. Despite the noise and commotion, it was a sobering end to the evening.