It's been a long winter in the City Diff., as if you didn't know. But, at last, Santa Fe's contemporary music scene awakens from semi-hibernation with two important concerts this week. And they're all about anniversaries.

Happy 10th, Santa Fe New Music! It celebrates with works ranging from 1975 to practically yesterday. SFNM's founding director, John Kennedy, has programmed Ingram Marshall's "September Canons," a moving elegy for violin and tape honoring 9.11. Marshall, best known for "Fog Tropes" (on the sound track for Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island), surrounds his mysterious sound world with a cool, meditative aura. Think Andy Goldsworthy's luminous, numinous ice works.

Steve Reich may be the most influential American composer of his generation, a groundbreaker in his infinite variety of patterns and combinations. "New York Counterpoint," for solo clarinet plus 11 prerecorded clarinets, requires crisp, witty articulation that can overcome repetition fatigue. Reich casts the contrapuntal piece in three (fast-slow-fast) movements. The jazzily energetic finale could be a shout-out to Woody Herman, especially The Herd's hard-driving "After You've Gone."

Just back from Spoleto USA where he led the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Émilie, John Kennedy contributes three pieces: a new work for cello, a percussion duo and a piece for piano. Here, Kennedy honors the many dedicated SFNM musicians, among them violinist David Felberg, clarinetist James Shields, cellist Sally Guenther and percussionists David Tolen and Angela Gabriel.

Kennedy promised a surprise finale, and he delivers: the eclectic Dutch composer Louis Andriessen's "Workers Union." Written "for any loud-sounding group of instruments," it's a hootenanny for joyfully noisy instrumentalists. The New Yorker's Alex Ross calls Andriessen "a bit of a bad ass." But for this wacky exuberance? Just one word: kick-ass.

So that other anniversary concert?  It's about a birthday, the greatly gifted Finnish cellist, Anssi Karttunen's 50th. He's here to lead Creative Dialogue IV, a symposium sponsored by the Sibelius Academy and Acequia Madre House where young musicians, in one intense week, encounter the newest of new music. You can hear all about it at their free public concert.

There's just one work on the program: "Mystery Variations on the Chiacona of Giuseppe Colombi," a September surprise b-day gift, commissioned by Saariaho and Muriel von Braun—30 spanking-new sets of variations based on Colombi's 17th century chacona (thought to be the first work written for solo cello). Nearly all the composers are friends or colleagues of Karttunen, many of them familiar to Santa Fe audiences: Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, Marc Neikrug, Tan Dun.

Each variation lasts about three minutes; the 90-minute aggregate will have one intermission, with each of seven cellists playing four or five variations. It's a bold notion, a kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of styles
recalling Anton Diabelli's 1819 commissioning of 50-plus sets of variations from Schubert, Liszt (age 8), Beethoven, et al.

About his birthday present, Karttunen jokes: "If you don't like a variation, wait three minutes." Some are cerebral, some outrageous, some ear-splitting. (The most touching is an ethereal nonvariation, a brief note from the late Peter Lieberson regretting his inability to contribute.) Six student cellists hail from Eastman, Northwestern, Texas, Yale, the Sibelius Academy. For Karttunen, a raison d'%uFFFDtre for the Dialogues is to allow students to confront unfamiliar texts and bring each to life as if for the first time—an immensely challenging task.

The "Mystery Variations," after initiating with Colombi's four-bar chacona, proceed through a complex contemporary universe of styles and elaborations. As Alex Ross writes, "The dance of the chacona is wider than the sea." And frankly, the breadth of these variations is breathtaking.