The composer and pianist Dina Koston was one of the driving forces behind new music in Washington for decades, launching the Theater Chamber Players — the Kennedy Center’s first resident chamber ensemble — in 1968, and performing and promoting young composers widely before her death in 2009. That legacy is continuing with a new endowment at the Library of Congress called the Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music, and on Wednesday the library opened a two-day tribute to Koston with a performance by the Cygnus Ensemble that featured her final work — paired with a short play by Samuel Beckett that inspired it — and a premiere of the endowment’s first commission.
“Ohio Impromptu” is quintessential Beckett: minimal and elementally powerful. A haunting meditation on loss, memory and regret, it received a finely shaded performance by Ted van Griethuysen and Steve Nixon. Koston’s “Distant Intervals” for chamber ensemble, which immediately followed, was inspired by the play, but you needed to scrunch your ears up a bit to hear the connection. In contrast with the monochromatic tone and spare, coiled drama of the Beckett play, Koston’s piece was colorful and discursive, a kaleidoscope of ideas posed and questioned, of wistful fragments that rose and subsided and rose again, always changing.