Northwestern's A-Plus Recital

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Students representing eight of the nation's leading music schools are giving free chamber music performances at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater this week as part of the center's year-old Conservatory Project.

Not only does the series provide a unique performing opportunity for young musicians on the cusp of promising careers, but it also gives area listeners a sneak peek at the concert hall performers of tomorrow.

On Monday evening, several instrumentalists from the Northwestern University School of Music basked in the spotlight with professional-caliber performances.

In Oskar Bohme's Concerto for Trumpet in F Minor, Op. 18, Ethan Bensdorf demonstrated an impressive range of dynamics and swift technical facility while capturing the playful character of the 19th-century piece. The 20-year-old tenderly shaped long-winded phrases in the Adagio, sometimes sounding like a mournful fluegelhorn. His upper-range tone veered toward a brassier edge, not unlike that of a jazz trumpeter. Though it meant his high notes tended to have a piercing quality, they were almost always centered in pitch. Pianist Yoko Yamada-Selvaggio provided sensitive accompaniment.

Owen Clayton Condon gave a captivating performance of "Velocities," written for marimba by Joseph Schwantner, a Northwestern graduate. Condon dashed up and down the length of the five-octave instrument with two mallets in each hand, with speedy accuracy and making melodic sense of the constantly flowing notes. The watery, hollow sound of the lower bars was spooky in comparison with the tinny prattle of bars being struck by the mallet handles.

Under the fingers of Winston Choi, Alexander Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53, spilled forth in a rainbow of colors. Choi clearly enjoyed the dramatic moments of the impressionistic piece, but he also excelled at its contemplative moments. On the other hand, Olivier Messiaen's Prelude No. 5 unfolded as a surprisingly mechanical and monochromatic scene, like a sepia-drenched photo of a car-manufacturing plant.

Cellist Anna Burden began the concert with a fine performance of Gregor Piatigorsky's "Variations on a Theme of Paganini," with Yamada-Selvaggio accompanying. Her intonation during the faster variations tended to slip in favor of virtuosity, but her slower variations were packed with songful melodies made especially poignant by her rich tone.

The Conservatory Project, presented by the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, continues through Sunday. All performances begin at 6 p.m.

-- Grace Jean

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