Thursday, June 28, 2007

21st Century Consort And Time for Three

Washington National Cathedral's wide-ranging and imaginative Summer Concert Series continued Tuesday evening with something of a double recital. The local 21st Century Consort presented a program of works by composer-pianist Paul Schoenfield, interspersed with performances by the dazzling Philadelphia-based bluegrass/folk/jazz trio Time for Three (two violins and bass). The marriage was not entirely a happy one: The stomping, sizzling acrobatics of Time for Three left the audience -- which appeared to include a sizable number of tourists -- somewhat restless during the earnest Schoenfield works, waiting impatiently for the next number.

The irony is that Schoenfield is one of the most eclectic and catholic modern composers, who freely avails himself of klezmer, Tin Pan Alley, tango and jazz within traditional classical compositions of disarming sophistication. He is a master of counterpoint, and his music is idiomatic and pleasing to play, though some of the pieces had their longueurs. But many of them boogied. Against most traditional composers on the scene today, Schoenfield would be considered bouncy, even frivolous. But against the dazzling eclat of e Time for Three, the pieces seemed almost saturnine, a contrast sharpened by the two groups' respective involvement and energy levels.

The staid performances by the 21st Century Consort were so totally upstaged by their young guests that one almost felt sorry for the group. In particular, Time for Three's Nicholas Kendall's torso-throwing, knee-bending athleticism on the violin brought his home-crowd audience to its feet. It would have been better for all concerned to have presented these groups in separate concerts.

-- Robert Battey

Washington ChuShan Chinese Opera Institute

Western operas tend to fall into two categories, tragedy and comedy. At Tuesday evening's performance at the Chinese Embassy, the Washington ChuShanChinese Opera Institute made the case for a third genre -- action. The program, presented by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in collaboration with the embassy, featured martial arts in addition to song, dance and recitation.

"Reclaiming the Sword," with Suling Guo as the Martial Female and Wentao Li as the Martial Male, was a high-energy, acrobatic power struggle. Movement was also a key component of the "Horse Rider Dance" and "The Fairies Sprinkling Flower Petals." The latter showed a gentler side of Chinese opera, involving ribbon dance, stringed instruments and melismatic singing.

The vocal style was forceful and bright, but employed gracefully by Xiaoling Tong, Karin Lee and Anita Wu. Other singers were Jianjin Shen of the Beijing Chinese Opera House in "Looking at the King" from "Farewell My Concubine" and Emma Wang in a modern rendition of "Dream of Beijing."

"Gold Mountain Temple," from "The Legend of White Snake Maiden," made for a thrilling finale. The story concerns a white snake, turned human, who fights a demon hunter to rescue her husband. A visually stunning excerpt, "Gold Mountain Temple" boasted vibrant robes, jeweled headdresses, and dramatic white faces with angular brows. Swords, sticks and flags made up the arsenal of the white snake, her sister and an army of underwater creatures. As throbbing metal and wood percussion accompanied the elaborate scene, the performers were as elegant and precise in their movements as they were exciting.

-- Ronni Reich

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