Jeffrey Mumford is the composer-in-residence at the National Gallery of Art this year, and it’s a fitting distinction, given that Mumford is a native of the District and has long been a central figure in the small-but-feisty contemporary music scene here. The gallery is mounting three concerts this month to celebrate Mumford’s music, and the first — performed in the East Building on Sunday night by the museum’s New Music Ensemble — offered an illuminating glimpse into the composer’s complex and richly imaginative music, in which an almost romantic sensibility seems to radiate through a thoroughly contemporary surface.
The first two pieces on the program (which was titled “Multiple Voices” — a nod both to Mumford’s multilayered style and to other composers who influenced or were influenced by him) underscored that combination. Brahms’s Intermezzo No. 2 in A is a profoundly emotional work, which Mumford says has drawn him to it from a young age, and it was given a warm, nuanced reading by pianist Lura Johnson. It was immediately contrasted with Elliott Carter’s “String Trio” from 2011, a short but challenging work to which violist Jonathan Richards — in the lead role — brought real drama.