German composer Stefan Hakenberg is currently working in Darmstadt, and although that city no longer has quite the reputation it used to, you might feel some of its influence on his work Days (1996) for bassoon and bass clarinet. Written in two “Books” of five short pieces each, the work interrogates the possibilities of combination of these two instruments that inhabit the lower end of the scale. The ten pieces have evocative but inscrutable titles: What “Rome” has in common with the Italian city seems to have less to do with monuments or history than with traffic; “Aeolian” felt like it was about wind, not about the mode of the same name – but it wasn’t especially breezy. “Menuet” did have a cockeyed triple-time feel to it, and “Miniature” was especially brief. Although the material of each movement is quite different, Days has certain favored processes: bringing the instruments close together with similar material so that their very different overtones mesh and clash; or having them sing their lines in dramatically different registers. It is an exploration of contrast, both in close quarters and in extremity. There’s just a touch of dramatics as well: the last movement of the first book, “Interludes”, is played on the reeds detached from the instruments, and it is a testament to the composer and the players that the kazoo sounds that emerged inspired only brief laughter: there was actually something to listen to. In the next movement, “Poem”, Underhill walked to the back wall and played with her back to the audience briefly, then exited. “Under Fabric”, which followed, was an aria for bass clarinet (played by Diane Heffner) with Underhill playing pedal points from the wings.

(The Boston Musical Intelligencer, Brian Schuth, 2014)