Guest conductor Markand Thakar put together a program that was all American and all easy listening for his concert with the National Gallery of Art Orchestra on Sunday. It even came across quite well when juiced up, as all music is there, by the West Garden Court’s lively echoes — no small feat.
In its first Washington performance, Jonathan Leshnoff’s Double Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (written in 2007) got a committed reading by violinist Charles Wetherbee and violist Victoria Chiang. Leshnoff, on the faculty of Towson University, is a prolific composer whose music is being performed widely. He thinks big, and with its twin virtues of accessibility and architectural coherence, you come away from the concerto feeling that you’ve heard something pleasantly significant. Its four movements seem to have their roots planted much more firmly in the Russian soil of composers such as Anatoly Liadov than in the Americanisms that colored the music of the rest of the program by Barber, Ives and Bernstein.
For the most part, Leshnoff keeps his orchestra in the background as accompanist rather than as partner, which is too bad because the few spots where the orchestra had a chance to assert itself revealed interesting sonorities — open and transparent. The two solo lines chase each other around in imitation, sometimes lyrically but more often with compelling energy, and Wetherbee and Chiang matched each other’s attacks, phrase-shapes and weights admirably.
The concert opened almost inaudibly with the first notes of the orchestral version of Samuel Barber’s popular “Adagio for Strings.” Thakar managed to craft inexorable crescendos toward the several broad climaxes, but his tempo was so slow that it sucked the air out of the music, and time didn’t seem suspended — it seemed to have stopped altogether.
The orchestra kept its bearings in the layered melodies and tempos of Charles Ives’s Third Symphony and let loose with brash and smoky exuberance in Leonard Bernstein’s “Three Dance Episodes from On the Town.”
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.