Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the composer of “Dance Concerto.” The correct name is Donald Crockett. The article also should have noted that the piece in question, “Dance Concerto,” was a world premiere. This version has been updated.
By now it’s almost a cliche to comment on the imagination and logic that go into the programs that Christopher Kendall constructs for his 21st Century Consort. But there it is. It’s impossible to talk around something that is so integral to providing a context for the contemporary music he brings to the stage.
For Saturday’s program titled “Dance the Night Away” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s McEvoy Auditorium, Kendall took three of the eight songs in Eugene O’Brien’s “Algebra of Night” cycle, alternated them with dance pieces for solo instruments by David Froom and Snorri Sigfus Birgisson and presented the group as a delicate and absorbing whole in which each “movement” refreshed the palate for the ones around it. These weren’t dances in the classical sense. They were visions of the dance, evoking a child whirling about in the rain, a light scarf floating in the wind, the night rhythms of a busy city.
It was an afternoon that featured distinguished playing by violinist Elizabeth Adkins, clarinetist Paul Cigan and pianist Lisa Emenheiser among others, but, in particular, the gloriously quiet and intense singing of mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek, the carefully shaped phrases and phrase endings of Aaron Goldberg’s flute in Froom’s “Dance to the Whistling Wind” and the concentration, restraint and calculated weight that cellist Rachel Young accorded to every note in Birgisson’s dreamily floating “Dance.”
Kendall set up all this delicacy by beginning with a hearty and heavy performance of Derek Bermel’s “Mulatash Stomp” (an evocation of an all-night Hungarian bash with overtones of both Stravinsky and Kodaly) and following it, after intermission, with George Crumb’s mystical homage to pure sound, “Night of the Four Moons.” And finally, there was a fine reading of the world premiere of Donald Crockett’s “Dance Concerto” for clarinet and nine instruments that, in this context, sounded almost classically retro.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.