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Anna Thorvaldsdottir plays MusicNOW finale /

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Indeed, it was an evening of three virtuoso concertos on Saturday's MusicNOW Festival program that all drew from the past while reinventing music as something daring and different on Saturday night. A chorale for ocarinas, Renaissance polyphony, edgy modernism, Hungarian folk songs and mistuned instruments. Those were just some of the elements heard in Ligeti's Violin Concerto, a piece from the early 1990s and in its first-ever performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Ligeti's music  succeeds in turning musical traditions upside down, and as the only non-living composer represented , the piece was, said festival founder Bryce Dessner, "the doorway through which to understand the rest."

Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's set the mood with bleak, unsettling harmonies in her composition, "Reflections," performed by violinist Kathryn Woolley, violist Christian Colberg and cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn. It had a spare, hypnotic beauty that you could appreciate if you've ever visited Nordic lands. The United States premiere of Dessner's own concerto for electric guitar, "Wires," concluded the evening, with the composer as soloist. Dessner, known as a founding member of the indie band The National, is also an accomplished composer and classical musician. As a composer for orchestra he is masterful at creating unique and beautiful soundscapes, and the electric guitar, as well as his "Ebow" (an electronic device) created unexpected and quite wonderful timbres.