Tom Williams, shown in 2005, was among those kicking off Jazz Appreciation Month on Sunday.
Tom Williams, shown in 2005, was among those kicking off Jazz Appreciation Month on Sunday. (Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra)
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic

The British composer Benjamin Britten was not yet 20 when he sketched his Double Concerto in B Minor for violin, viola and orchestra -- then shelved the thing without bothering to finish it. Britten's neglect is hard to fathom. This 1932 work (which was realized from a sketch after the composer's death and premiered in 1987) is a stunning, fully mature composition, as the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic showed on Sunday at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall.

Violist Marc Ramirez and violinist Olivia Hajioff (who perform together under the slightly squirmy moniker "marcolivia") turned in a vivid and satisfying account of the work; the two are almost palpably in sync both in tone and sensibility, and they took obvious pleasure in exploring the work's considerable expressive depths.

Kudos to the philharmonic's music director, Ulysses S. James -- who conducted with precision and vitality -- for putting this unjustly neglected work on the program.

The program also featured the world premiere of James Kazik's "Poem for Orchestra," a short but appealing work with an introspective, often dreamlike feel to it. While rather conventional in its language and restrained in its expressive range, it was elegantly knitted together and demonstrated Kazik's command of orchestral textures; there were several moments (such as the clarion trumpet rising out of a melancholy shimmer of strings) that were quite magical.

The evening closed with a concert version, much abridged, of Jacques Offenbach's lyric opera "Tales of Hoffmann." Mark Whitmire led the NOVA Community Chorus in a tour of the opera's high points, which -- despite some truly painful French and the sometimes-casual coordination between orchestra and chorus -- was enjoyable.

-- Stephen Brookes

Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra Sextet

If you're going to kick off Jazz Appreciation Month with a concert featuring a sextet drawn from the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, what more ferocious way to do it than by celebrating the hard bop recorded by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers?

Guest drummer Anthony Brown, who headed up the Smithsonian band at the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium on Sunday night, didn't spend the entire evening flexing his muscles, however. The ensembles led by drummer Blakey in the '50s and '60s were distinguished by numerous musicians who were superb jazz composers -- pianist Bobby Timmons and saxophonists Benny Golson and Wayne Shorter, among others -- and several were represented during the concert.

Early on, there were soulful reminders of Timmons's gospel roots ("Moanin' "), Golson's enduring legacy ("Along Came Betty") and Shorter's budding talent ("Time Off").

Trumpeter Tom Williams, trombonist Bill Holmes and saxophonist Luis Hernandez moved smoothly from blue hues to brash shouts, and all the musicians, including pianist Tony Nalker and bassist James King, showed a flair for creating melodic embellishments and fully developed improvisations. Hernandez sounded particularly inspired when exploring "Ugetsu" with Coltrane-like fervor, while Williams infused "Skylark" with bright lyricism and luster. The ensemble passages were focused, the harmonies alternately shaded and vibrant.

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