The ASO began the concert with a discordant trumpet blast ushering in long, branching strands of ornamented counterpoint. In this relatively new, three-movement work by Atlanta School Composer Christopher Theofanidis, the orchestra created shifting pockets of sound, passing snatches of melody through the orchestra as the group traversed a variety of soundscapes. “Dreamtime Ancestors” is an impressionistic piece of deeply harmonic music, and the relatively approachable musical language makes occasional, pointed dissonances even more profound. The piece, which was commissioned in 2015 by the New Music for America Consortium for performance by 48 orchestras throughout the country, is akin to ambient music in its approach to creating a shifting sound world. This was the first time the ASO performed “Dreamtime Ancestors,” and the concert functioned as a warmup for what might be seen as the main event: The ASO and ASO Chorus will perform his 75-minute “Creation/Creator,” which the ensemble premiered in 2015, on March 23.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has a deep relationship with Theofanidis, and also sees the composer John Adams as a kindred spirit. Spano has conducted the ensemble in four Adams works so far this season, and the collaboration has produced sublime results, most notably 2008’s concert-staged performances of the Adam’s opera “Dr. Atomic” and the debut recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” for which the ASO won a Grammy in 2009.
The ensemble’s Thursday performance of “Harmonielehre” – an Adams piece from 1985 that establishes much of the harmonic and rhythmic ideas used in his later operas – stood out as the gem of the evening. Spano programmed the evening with virtuosic playing and a new, engaging composition, but the subtly shifting rhythmic propulsion of Adams’ minimalism, which demands that the ensemble play myriad interlocking parts with precision, served as the best showcase for the ASO and its formidable abilities.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Benjamin Beilman
8 p.m. March 2. Additional performance at 8 p.m. March 4. $20-$49. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000, atlantasymphony.org.