One piece sounded like a cross between Philip Glass and David Lang, with repeating syncopated snatches of text buoyed by string figures from a small instrumental ensemble. Another offered a chant-like text over a piano accompaniment dark and rich and thick as fruitcake. One composer sang her own work in a gentle, piping voice that gave an extra flavor of early music to her setting of three poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. One composer presided from the keyboard as a small cast enacted an entire mini-opera.
The occasion was the first concert in a two-day festival of new vocal music, New Voices @ CUA, which spotlighted the laudable emphasis on writing for theater and voices at the university’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. The festival featured individual concerts of cabaret-style music and sacred music, as well as a full-fledged professional concert, courtesy of the ubiquitous Great Noise Ensemble, on Saturday night. Friday’s opening was a pot-pourri of styles and levels of achievement and experience -- just the kind of event a music school should put on, and encourage, and continue.
Undergraduates should be given lots of room to try things, and experiment, and soar or fall on their faces without being subject to too much scrutiny. As it happens, my two favorite works on the program were by older students. The vivid, Philip Glass-evoking work was “Red Wheelbarrow” by Erik Abrahamson, a master’s candidate who got his bachelor’s degree in composition and then spent 12 years in the Marines flying helicopters in Iraq, and who conducted his work with cool if slightly stiff authority. And the dark piano accompaniment supported “Duae Cantiones Sacrae” by another master’s degree candidate, Eran Lupu.
It was one event in an action-packed weekend. I wrote before about the challenge of figuring out to review this weekend; now I can write about the challenge of fitting everything into the paper. My thoughts on the Catholic University performance are confined to the blog as well, which seemed, after I saw the show, like a better fit for an evening that deserves lots of encouragement and not necessarily the harsh hand of judgment in print. Robert Battey’s Steven Isserlis review also ran online only, simply because one of the classical music reviews had to run online; it was great that we got three of them -- the Bang on a Can All-Stars; Brooklyn Rider; and Opera Lafayette’s “Lalla Roukh” -- into the paper. It’s not just classical music that’s affected by the Monday crunch; the Sunday editor had a total of seven reviews to place, and a review of the singer Terri White at the Kennedy Center ran on-line only as well. (The print edition included reviews of the jazz pianist/bandleader Eddie Palmieri and a choreographers’ showcase at the Clarice Smith Center.)
Rounding out coverage this weekend was Robert Battey’s review of Rachel Barton Pine, which ran on Tuesday. Stephen Brookes nicely profiled Pine a few days ago in the Washington Post; Battey heard one of her two concerts of the Paganini Caprices on Sunday afternoon.
So there you have it: one weekend in the life of Washington’s classical music. Meanwhile, Ana Vidovic played to a full house at the Marlow Guitar Series; the InSeries opened its “Clemenza di Tito;” the National Philharmonic performed at Strathmore; the Lark Quartet encored Daron Aric Hagen’s “Genji” with a koto player, and all of that had to go unremarked by the Post -- as did Marc-Andre Hamelin’s recital at Shriver Hall, and an all-American program by the American Youth Orchestra, and more. It’s both a delight and a frustration that Washington these days is offering so much music that the Post can only review a cross-section of what’s on offer. More power to other outlets that sometimes cover things we can’t, and sometimes afford a different perspective on those we can (here’s Ionarts on Bang on a Can). Did anyone see any of the concerts we didn’t review this weekend?