Auckland Chamber Orchestra has taken a particularly courageous stand this year in its search for the unexpected.
Sunday's Creation Jazz Style concert featured Milhaud's 1923 ballet La Creation du Monde after a line-up of Francaix, Xenakis and Lei Liang.
I was surprised that Jean Francaix's Dixtuor was written as recently as 1987, by a septuagenarian composer, well versed in the affable and urbane.
Twenty minutes passed like a Tati soundtrack sans pictures, delivered with grace and affection by Peter Scholes and his 10 players.
Despite occasionally awkward textures, the idiom was caught well by the zesty Miranda Adams leading her string quintet alongside five of the city's premier wind players. Lovely touches included the billow of shifting metres in its Andante Scherzando.
Iannis Xenakis is usually the province of hard-core contemporary ensembles; Scholes is to be congratulated on putting this composer's 1969 Anaktoria into a more general
Xenakis' ruminations on love, inspired by Sappho, were unflinchingly dissonant; dense sonic sheets knotted with microtones bristled with gnarly strings. There was a sense of exploring the very limits of acoustic possibilities - little wonder that American composer DJ Spooky described such music as a phantom dance with the specters of an omnipresent digital technology.
After interval, we had Bamboo Lights by the contemporary Chinese-American composer Lei Liang, just a few months after its Boston premiere.
This was another demanding listen, with flailing dissonance and thunderous percussion, sometimes ominously primal.
Milhaud's La Creation du Monde won the audience over with its undimmed joi de vivre. Donald Nicholls' saxophone crooned smokily, Andrew Uren did a Benny Goodman turn as the band riffed on; Alison Jepson's oboe cajoled a wily tune that hinted at Gershwin to come, while Douglas Cross and Huw Dann positively ripped into their brassy fugue.
One dreams of experiencing this ballet with its original Jean Borlin choreography and Fernand Leger sets and costumes but not for long. Watching the sheer exhilaration of the ACO musicians, trailing from blues and Dixieland to tom tom frenzy, brought, in its own way, all the fun of the original dance.
What: Auckland Chamber Orchestra
Where: Raye Freeman Arts Centre