Bruce Hodges watches a live stream from Symphony Hall, Atlanta, on 14 January 2021

Seth Parker Woods. Photo: Michael Yu

Seth Parker Woods. Photo: Michael Yu

Responding to worldwide restrictions due to Covid-19 with online concerts, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presented an evening featuring For Roscoe Mitchell (2020) by Tyshawn Sorey, a multi-talented composer and percussionist who received a MacArthur Foundation award in 2017.

Sorey wrote the piece with the adventurous cellist Seth Parker Woods in mind, who gave the work’s world premiere last November with the Seattle Symphony. Well known in avant-garde circles, Woods recently donned a wetsuit to play a cello carved from ice – a collaboration with composer Spencer Topel.

Inspired by the jazz composer and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell (b.1940), who founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sorey has written what he calls a ‘non-concerto’, in which the cello and ensemble perform as an integrated whole, with no flashy cadenzas on the premises. The result evoked Morton Feldman, though more tense and unsettling, perhaps a nod to a tumultuous year.

Against static woodwind chords, Woods countered with repeated close intervals, and double-stops in major and minor seconds. Near the end, quiet, breathy brass chords made a subdued backdrop for enigmatic pizzicato notes. It was mesmerising to watch Woods’s quiet focus, especially in navigating some of the work’s high harmonics (enhanced by camera close-ups).

Before that came Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia, with guest conductor Maxim Emelyanychev encouraging stirring tone from the ensemble’s strings. The concert ended with Haydn’s ‘Drumroll’ Symphony, a bit restrained at first, but ultimately capturing the work’s delicacy and ebullience.