From Jessica Krash, Witticisms and Cunning

Composer-pianist Jessica Krash inserted quotes from Beethoven and Bach in her innovative work.
Composer-pianist Jessica Krash inserted quotes from Beethoven and Bach in her innovative work. (By Jason Horowitz)
By Andrew Lindemann Malone
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, June 9, 2007

Jessica Krash, a Chevy Chase composer, pianist and teacher, plays rough with traditional musical narrative. "My generation of classical musicians was taught that a good piece of music takes a small amount of thematic material and builds it logically, sensibly, and steadily into a large, reasonable form -- a whole story," Krash wrote in the notes for a program of her own music that she played at the Mansion at Strathmore Thursday. "But where were the interruptions, digressions, absurdities, obsessions and elusive temptations that make up real life?"

Krash has filled her music with just these kinds of anomalies, sometimes to the exclusion of almost everything else -- a strategy that proved both enervating and fascinating.

Her style lends itself to comic juxtapositions, and Krash infused a clutch of pieces with sly, crackling wit. In her entertaining "Civil Rites" suite, the grimly determined rolling figures in "PTA" ran off the rails and never quite recovered, and "Undisclosed Location" seethed with suspended chords and little musical explosions. Two typically wry Saul Steinberg drawings inspired equally sharp, funny pieces in "Her and Him."

In the title piece of the "Details at 11" suite, however, the dissonant chordal alarms that relentlessly interrupted a small love theme only served as a reminder that watching TV without a remote is really annoying. And in "Background Music -- Off the Map: Stories From East DC," Krash's decision to depict those stories, already unnoticed by many D.C. area residents, with tepid waiting-room harmonies and disjunct melodic sections seemed to be an oddly unsympathetic joke.

One piece did have a kind of narrative flow: "Fog," over a half-hour long, felt like a fevered dream in its world premiere performance. (Krash recorded the work, along with "Civil Rites" and "Details at 11," on a Capstone Records CD in 2005, but Thursday marked its first public hearing.) Starting from an introduction that seemed to be constructing itself, Krash connected blurry, charged incidents with obscure yet somehow intuitive logic. Quotes from Beethoven, Schumann and Bach popped up, familiar faces estranged by context. Chords were repeated beyond obvious need, then broken off when you least expected it. Melodies dissolved and reassembled themselves continuously.

Though at times during the concert one wished for a bit more tonal light and shade from Krash, her urgent, committed reading of "Fog" made it all the more gripping. Elsewhere, Krash's music had been eager to disappoint our expectations; here, she created her own new expectations, and made something potent in the process.

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