The 21st Century Consort, Getting In on the Mozart Birthday Fun

Monday, February 13, 2006

It's Mozart's 250th birthday (actually, Jan. 27 was the precise date) and everyone, including the 21st Century Consort, wants to join in the celebration. How does a group that specializes in new music pay tribute to Mozart?

An obvious homage Saturday at the Hirshhorn was Alfred Schnittke's "Moz-Art," a tongue-in-cheek duet that violinists Elisabeth Adkins and Laurent Weibel pulled off with mock seriousness. It sounded like Schnittke took a Mozart score, sent it through a shredder and pasted it back together again. Arvo Part took a less humorous though no less intriguing approach in his "Mozart Adagio," played by Adkins, cellist Rachel Young and pianist Lisa Emenheiser in a precise and heartfelt performance. There were a few surprises thrown in, but the melodies and archetypal accompaniment were clearly a nod to Wolfgang.

It takes guts -- and mastery -- to play John Cage's no-frills String Quartet in Four Parts artistically. With no vibrato and open harmonies, the ensemble transcended the plain style to make beautiful music. Too bad Cage took the programmatic aspect of the work so seriously: The movement depicting winter was, just like the season, seemingly interminable.

David Froom's energetic Piano Trio didn't push the envelope melodically or harmonically. But his angular melodies and driving rhythms were pleasing and engaging, especially in the tight performance given by Adkins, Young and Emenheiser.

Baritone William Sharp's perfect diction and lyrical yet reserved dramatics made him the storyteller of Scott Wheeler's world premiere, "The Palace at 4 A.M.," based on texts from a William Maxwell novel. Tom Jones's percussion in the mixed ensemble added particular interest, depicting carpenters in the text with a hammer against a wood block.

-- Gail Wein

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