When it comes to new music, the parameters by which we usually observe classical musicians often fade away. In this case we are speaking about eight cellists, and given this program, it would be of little use to comment on the purity of their sound. Tonight’s scores, in fact, frequently required the sound to be pierced and dirty. Moreover, with so much dissonance and chaos in the pieces, intonation is not so easily assessable.

Two comments I can overall make about Cellophilia: their coordination is remarkable and their versatility palpable.

Cellist Mariel Roberts began the show. The Reserved, the Reticent (Sarah Kirkland Snider) starts at a slow pace, and it recalls endless spaces through its fourths and fifths. This atmosphere marks both the opening and closing of each of the three movements. The second movement debouches from relaxing pizzicatos and chords reminiscent of the music of Giovanni Sollima into wrath, characterized by the sharp alternation of extremely low and high-pitched ornaments.

The program continued with a friendship story. Singer Brooke Campbell and composer/producer Matt Frey met long ago, catering tables together in Brooklyn. One day she composed a folk song and asked him to arrange it. This very song, Ice Covers the North, with its Irish scent and singing strings, was tonight performed by voice and seven cellos.

John Zorn’s 777 (nothing is true, everything is permitted) follows technical processes that bear room for improvement in speed and entertainment capacity. Roberts, Ashley Bathgate and Brian Snow outstandingly performed Zorn’s written aggressiveness, sounding like participants in a “who’s the noisiest” competition. Their cello parts are mostly dissonant, angry and rhythmically furious, clashing through bass notes, double stops and sharp accents. These artists are gifted with an impressive energy, and know how to channel it out.

Empty City by Yoav Shemesh followed, cellists accompanied by recorded sounds representing a metropolitan environment. The piece engaged Bathgate and Roberts in playing the portion of the strings below the cello’s bridge. It is a sequence of rousing rhythms and harmonies borrowed variously from rock, the Romantic repertoire, and metal music. It is not ashamed to belong to our times; it does not despise any existing musical genres, and as such it was a breath of fresh air for these passionate young performers.

The highlight of Canon Prelude (Matt Frey) was its stereo effect. The musicians sat in a circle among the audience, exchanging lullaby themes and pizzicato bass lines. The same sense of calm initially seemed to be embraced by the performing cellist/composer Robert Karpay in the second movement of his Three Programmatic Duos. It didn’t take too long, however, for some contrasting, unsettling harmony to emerge, Shostakovich style. Hallucination seemed to be the binding element of the three movements.

Michael Gordon’s piece Light is Calling followed, demanding Bathgate to play along Bill Morrison’s film. The screen showed war scenes, contrasted to resigned cello melodies, sounding over a layer of obstinate electric basses. An element of contrast was also contained in Tim Hansen’s piece. With The Traveller, this young Australian composer translates this reflection into music, as reported in the programme: “I’m a long way from home, but I’ve travelled so much in the past four years that things aren’t as clear as I’d like them to be”.

Finally, Reich’s Cello Counterpoint was an effective crowning to this musical evening, with its conclusive crazy, scary, circus-like virtuosity.

Knowing from experience how challenging new music concerts can be for listeners, I was surprised how pleasant and skilfully performed this program was. If this is a representative sample of young composers and our current generation of young performers, I believe the world is taking a turn for the better.