Could Washington be turning into a destination for composers? Last fall, we saw a festival celebrating the centennial of John Cage, a seminal American composer. Today, five major institutions in the DC area are announcing a festival next spring honoring the 75th birthday of a seminal Dutch composer: Louis Andriessen.
Cage’s name is familiar to many people who don’t like or don’t know his music. Andriessen is less of a known quantity -- at least to the general public; in musical circles he’s well known as an influential maveric -- and probably correspondingly more appealing. Some call him a “European minimalist,” others see him as one of the most American of European composers, with the composers of the collective Bang on a Can among his most ardent champions and followers. There’s nothing small about his music, which specializes in big sounds and a wide range of textures and styles. He’s called himself a “maximalist,” as I’ve observed before: I first profiled Andriessen in 2004, when New York’s Lincoln Center presented a festival of his work.
The DC festival grew out of a performance by the enterprising composer/curator Armando Bayolo, who started a new-music group by advertising on Craigslist, and from those beginnings has established the Great Noise Ensemble and a position as curator of the often wonderful new-music series at the Atlas. The Great Noise Ensemble is not yet on a par with the cutting-edge groups the Atlas and Bayolo bring in from around the country, but they make up in eagerness what they lack in polish, as was abundantly proven by the ragged but marvelously energetic performance of Andriessen’s “De Materie,” a major and seldom-performed work, at the National Gallery in 2010. Bayolo was able to involve Andriessen in that performance, and the relationship has clearly continued to prosper; Andriessen will be present for the entire DC festival (which takes place from April 6-13, 2014).
Below: a section of "De Materie," the four-part work by Louis Andriessen that had its DC premiere in 2010. In April, Andriessen will be celebrated with a whole festival celebrating his 75th birthday.
This current festival, a collaboration of the National Gallery, Strathmore, Atlas Performing Arts Center, the Great Noise Ensemble, and Shenandoah Conservatory, includes a couple of major regional premieres: “La Girò,” a violin concerto, written for Monica Germino, who will perform it at Shenandoah Conservatory on April 12, and the opera “La Commedia,” a so-called “film opera” based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, which won the composer the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 2010 and which the Great Noise Ensemble will perform at the National Gallery on April 6. Other highlights include a concert by the Bang on a Can All-Stars juxtaposing Andriessen’s music with that of the Bang on a Can composers he influenced (David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon; at the Atlas on April 11), and the Aeolus Quartet’s performance of all five of Andriessen’s string quartets.
“The current mood in contemporary concert music—optimistic, energetic, informal, irreverent, fun—can be directly attributed to Louis,” Bayolo said in a press statement. “It is for this reason that, as the Washington new music scene continues to grow and its national presence expands, we wish to honor Andriessen’s work on the occasion of his 75th birthday.”