The King's Singers were at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Saturday doing what they do supremely well -- entertaining. Their medium is close harmony and their material is almost the entire choral repertoire -- from the early Renaissance to early 2005, from the most refined and exalted music of the church to Billy Joel and, most especially, the several hundred pieces they have commissioned over their 37 years of musicmaking.
Saturday's concert featured the world premiere of one of these commissions, a 12-minute meditation by American composer Jackson Hill on two 7th-century Japanese love poems (in Japanese) called "Remembered Love, Unforgotten Dreams." It is a largely homophonic piece that moves with stately deliberation in sections, some characterized by chantlike, ascending lines and others that move in undulating waves. These reappear from time to time, giving the whole piece a comforting sense of coherent structure. Even within his unrelentingly chordal writing, Hill achieves remarkably varied textures by changing the vocal spacing from intense clusters to sonorities that span several octaves. It is an interesting and worthy addition to the repertoire, but Hill is going to be hard put to find many other vocal ensembles that can field bassos and countertenors with the necessary range.
The King's Singers premiered Jackson Hill's "Remembered Love, Unforgotten Dreams" in their performance Saturday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
The program opened with an intense reading of four psalm settings by the Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek, sung with the uncanny precision the King's Singers are known for. It moved on to a romp through a group of rowdy Renaissance Spanish pieces, glitzy settings of "Songs From the Auvergne," and Beatles and Joel pop numbers.
A packed house and standing ovation (a D.C. specialty) attested to the fact that this is an ensemble that has figured out how to please.
-- Joan Reinthaler
One of the most versatile players in the jazz guitar world, Bill Frisell gave the full house at the Library of Congress Friday night something to think about. Frisell's 858 Quartet, including violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang and cellist Hank Roberts, performed music inspired by visual art and took a contemplative approach to some recognizable standards.
The core of the concert was music from "Richter 858," Frisell's album-length composition in response to eight paintings by the German pop artist Gerhard Richter. This was contemporary chamber music at its best, with the players exploring the timbral range of their instruments. Layers of chords meshed with a pastiche of undulating electronics, reflecting moods ranging from bucolic to chaotic. Each in the talented ensemble seemed perfectly at home with the extended techniques that Frisell's music demanded.
Some familiar tunes emerged after a meandering journey of sound on "You Are My Sunshine," "What's Going On" and "What the World Needs Now Is Love." With the use of electronic processors, Frisell coaxed sonorities from bells to harp to harpsichord from his guitar, resulting in mesmerizing solos.
Frisell stayed in the background much of the time, manipulating electronics and sweetly plucking or gently strumming his electric guitar. The lanky and charismatic Roberts often took center stage, molding his cello to his body, vivaciously plucking it like a guitar. Kang produced remarkable sounds with his viola, at times emulating a Middle Eastern horn.
One can't wait to hear what Frisell has up his sleeve next.
-- Gail Wein
'Happy Birthday, Mozart'
For its Mozart's birthday celebration and to boost its scholarship fund, the University of Maryland Music School presented a program of relatively unfamiliar Mozart in three performances over the weekend. Several advanced students and one faculty member, bass-baritone Francois Loup, were involved in the four arias and duets and a stripped-down production of "The Impresario" that made up this year's "Happy Birthday, Mozart" program. The performances Friday night were on a highly professional level.
Most conspicuously missing in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall was the orchestra, for which Mozart had composed his music, but three excellent pianists performed at various parts of the program, and the substitution of piano for orchestra presented no problems. Ilya Sinaisky showed great sensitivity in accompanying voices, David Ballena had exemplary technique and Eunae Ko, who took on the assignment of providing music for "The Impresario," played the overture to that little show of battling sopranos with an orchestral richness of tone, harmony and dynamic nuance.
Besides Loup, an operatic veteran with hundreds of performances at the Metropolitan, the Washington Opera and other major companies to his credit, the singers included Colleen Daly (the dramatically powerful Mrs. Heart in "The Impresario"), Jung-A Lee (Miss Silvertone, with sweetly agile high notes) and Tony Boutte (Mr. Buskin, with the light tone and excellent legato Mozart requires of a tenor). Under the expert stage direction of Loup, the evening went as smoothly as Mozart is supposed to go but only occasionally does.
-- Joseph McLellan
Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band
Before a note was sounded, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band lived up to its billing at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Friday night. How could it not with a lineup featuring saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, James Moody and Antonio Hart, trombonist Slide Hampton, trumpeters Michael Brecker and Claudio Roditi, pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassist John Lee?
Yet some of the evening's brightest stars weren't among the nearly 20 musicians assembled onstage. They were the composers and arrangers -- Benny Golson, Ray Brown and Gil Fuller, among others -- whose contributions crackled with electricity and color. Certainly the band's namesake would have felt at home in this setting, and no doubt moved by Heath's beautifully orchestrated homage "Without You, No Me." Though most of the arrangements provided plenty of room for solos, nothing proved more compelling than the sound of the ensemble firing on all cylinders during an exhilarating, Fuller-devised reprise of "Things to Come."
Of course, any performance that features the incorrigibly silly Moody is going generate a lot of laughter. He delighted the crowd with his updated take on "Moody's Mood for Love," in which he sang both male and female parts, as well as gleefully dabbling in scat, yodeling and rap.
Singer Roberta Gambarini, who's come a long way since winning third prize in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Vocal Competition in 1998, held her own while scat-conversing with Moody. But her best performance found her displaying impressive range and finely honed musicality during a dreamy arrangement of "Stardust."
-- Mike Joyce
For 25 years, R&B great Jerry Butler has performed at Blues Alley during Valentine's week, but he wasn't the only one celebrating an anniversary at the Georgetown club Saturday night.
A couple who tied the knot shortly after attending one of the singer's concerts more than 30 years ago was seated at a table in the packed house, and the not-so-blushing bride didn't hesitate to make a song request: "Only the Strong Survive." Dubbed "The Iceman" early in his career, Butler delivered the goods with as much cool as ever. Then again, chances are anyone who came to hear the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer soulfully revisit "Hey, Western Union Man," "Moon River," "Let It Be Me" and his perennial Valentine's hit, "For Your Precious Love," didn't go home disappointed, either. The 65-year-old balladeer hasn't lost his debonair flair for romancing audiences with his husky baritone, and he hasn't significantly altered the crowd-pleasing aspects of his show in decades.
He still carves out some time to sing the blues, inspired by the likes of Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Duke Ellington. Reed, Butler explained, sang two kinds of blues: the sort that concern his woman leaving him and the sort that concern his woman coming back. But Butler mostly favored his own hit parade, punctuating faithful renditions with an amusing assortment of asides, anecdotes and recollections. He's working with a seasoned sextet, featuring the gifted vocalist Terisa Griffin, who was showcased during the inevitable reprise of "My Funny Valentine." The engagement concludes tonight.
-- Mike Joyce
Last year Dale F. Voelker, artistic director of the Washington Kantorei, researched and edited a group of Georg Philipp Telemann's neglected cantatas, including 47 composed to celebrate the New Year.
Voelker's interest was specifically the seven unpublished New Year cantatas composed between 1750 and 1764, in the closing years of Telemann's life. Two of those freshly edited cantatas received their first modern performances Saturday in the Falls Church Episcopal Church, with Voelker conducting his small, expert chorus and a baroque chamber orchestra.
For contrast, the program also included works by modern composers, notably Arvo Part's moving tribute to Mary Magdalene, "The Woman With the Alabaster Box," and the joyful "Sanctus" from Dominick Argento's opera "The Masque of Angels." Also in the modern segment were two works by the German composer Volker Brautigam along with the Lord's Prayer, set by Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miskinis.
It was all interesting and well done, but the two Telemann cantatas were the program's focus: "Singt umeinander dem Herrn"("Sing together to the Lord") and "Jauchze, du Tochter Zion" ("Rejoice, thou daughter of Zion").
As New Year cantatas, and therefore festive, these works included brass and timpani; they were graceful and well made, as Telemann's music usually is. The interpretation was highly polished. The superbly trained choir sang with fine balance and ensemble, and the soloists had excellent voices and a fine grasp of the proper style. Of these, soprano Julie Keim was a guest artist. The others, Carolee Pastorius, Robert Petillo and Shannon Kiser, were members of the chorus who clearly deserved the solo spotlight.
-- Joseph McLellan