Matters began with the endearing trivialities of Cage’s Living Room Music, congenial strokings of household furniture brought onstage for the occasion, some to Gertrude Stein poetry, some not. Later there was Cage’s famous silent piece 4’33” performed by pianist Scott Dunn with majestic solemnity; Dunn also participated — fingers and all this time, and with violinist Sarah Thornblade and cellist Timothy Loo — in Charles Ives’ Trio, with its hilarious jumble of quotations one minute and its apparent inability to get to any kind of point the next. Guitarist Miroslav Tadic and violinist Thornblade collaborated in a set of garrulous Terry Riley pieces whose inability to get to a point was part of their charm. Best of all was Lou Harrison’s hugely insistent, dramatic Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra, its killer solos dispatched by a phenomenal 22-year-old violinist named Joel Pargman — remember that name — with a mostly student ensemble led by Donald Crockett.
There are times when you’re listening to a piece, and you squirm in your seat and can’t wait for it to end. There are times when you sit transfixed and pray that it never ends. On successive nights last week — the Carmen and Lou Harrison’s Concerto — I was able to touch both extremes.