By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
The pianist Juho Pohjonen, center, with, from left, Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), James Austin Smith (oboe), Eric Reed (horn), Anthony Manzo (bass), Timothy Eddy (cello) and Paul Neubauer (violin) at Alice Tully Hall. Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
“Flute Affair” was the lighthearted if somewhat misleading title of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s program on Sunday afternoon at Alice Tully Hall.
Yes, the concert featured two fine flutists, Ransom Wilson and Tara Helen O’Connor, in works ranging from Bach to Henri Dutilleux. But the program was dominated by two substantive pieces which did not particularly highlight the flute, and which could not have been more different.
Very little happens in John Luther Adams’s “there is no one, not even the wind” (2016), a quietly cosmic piece for nine players. But in Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Septet in D minor (1816), almost every moment is animated by fleet, virtuosic writing for the piano. This 36-minute, four-movement septet became a signature piece for Liszt; here Juho Pohjonen dispatched the piano part with effortless brilliance.
Mr. Adams, who lived for nearly 40 years in Alaska, often explores environmental themes in works like “Become Ocean,” a hypnotic orchestral piece that evokes the surging immensity of the sea (and won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music). Since 2014 he has divided his time between New York City and a desert region of Mexico. His “there is no one, not even the wind” comes directly from his experience of the “space and solitude, the stillness and light of the desert,” as he writes in a preface to the work.
Mr. Pohjonen and the flutist Ransom Wilson. Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Scored for flute, alto flute, piano, two percussionists and four strings, the piece begins with eerily soft, sustained high string tones gently buttressed by chiming percussion chords. Mr. Adams stacks up tones to create wondrously strange and alluring harmonies. Sometimes the music reposes on what seems a soft, lushly diatonic chord, except certain instruments play nearly inaudible high pitches that lend sting to the sonority.
But the time-stands-still pacing and subdued atmosphere just continues — for 26 minutes. Now and then a short bass drum roll suggests that something ominous might be stirring. Not so. Occasionally you detect an embryonic melody. But it disappears into the wash of sounds…