Contemporary music festival - with little that's new

A chance to hear a five-concert series of contemporary music is hardly something to sneeze at. However, the Juilliard Contemporary Music Festival that ended recently lacked any sort of profile. Most of the works heard on three orchestral programs were written before 1954. The newest music was mainly offered on chamber programs.

There was not much order to any of the programming. And one wonders what such repertoire staples as Walton's Cello Concerto, Copland's Clarinet Concerto, and Berg's Violin Concerto were doing here.

Numerous other pieces selected hardly justified themselves - Leon Kirchner's ''Toccata'' (1955), Marcel Bitsch's ''Partita for Bassoon and Piano'' (1981), and Larry Allen Smith's ''Polyhymnian Serenade'' (1982) offered nothing of particular interest to the listener. Other works were clearly chosen because they are never heard otherwise - Howard Hanson's unabashedly melodious Second Symphony, ''Romantic,'' and Ernst Krenek's 1922 Second Symphony. The Hanson appeals for its verve; the Krenek hasn't much to say musically but takes a whopping 55 minutes to unfold. Some pieces have genuine appeal, such as Lowell Liebermann's graceful and dramatic Second Piano Sonata (1983).

Ralph Shapey's Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, given its world premiere at the final concert (one of two I could not attend), was probably the most interesting work on paper in the festival.

It is very odd that a contemporary festival would be so backward looking, and so ill-chosen on the current front as well.

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