powerLESS

eighth blackbird; Argento Chamber Ensemble; red fish blue fish; Steven Schick; and others at the Tune-In Music Festival at Park Avenue Armory on Friday, February 18.

The program was outside my comfort zone, which was exactly why I wanted to go. It’s so easy to fall into picking only the familiar works you know you love—or maybe less familiar works by composers you know you love—that every now and then you have to shake yourself and dive into something unknown. The dizzying program at the inaugural Tune-In Music Festival, committed to “enhancing opportunities for contemporary musicians and composers,” certainly qualified: two works by twentieth-century/contemporary composers I’d never heard of, one by a twentieth-century/contemporary composer I’ve never warmed to, and a rather free arrangement of a work by Bach, the composer who brings out my most rigid, purist inclinations about interpretation—definitely not in my comfort zone.

But the conceit of the program intrigued me. Its title, “powerLESS,” alludes to a notorious line from Igor Stravinsky’s autobiography: “Music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all.” (Another program in the festival is titled “powerFUL,” essentially taking the contrary position.) Stravinsky is being provocative, of course, but if you can get past the absolutism, it’s an interesting idea, demanding that we justify music for its own sake. Each work on this program seems to demand that kind of attitude. The music offers no narrative entry points, no extramusical suggestions to hold onto, no language at all. It’s music—sound—left to its own devices, and in that, it’s a fascinating assortment.