Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dawn Avery

Cellist Dawn Avery, who is on the Montgomery College faculty, returned to her Mohawk roots with a program titled the "North American Indian Cello Project" Tuesday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park. Avery was inspired to create her own evening-length concert after taking part in some musical activities at the National Museum of the American Indian last year. With grants from various cultural foundations, she commissioned several pieces from native American composers to create an evocative tapestry of history and sound.

Most of the composers were present at the concert, and in a Q&A with audience members, they reflected on the challenges of translating their culture into Western art forms. The cello, for example, has no analogue in native American instruments, and it was the featured voice all evening.

Avery, who has an extensive background in contemporary music of all genres, was indefatigable in drawing out a colorful menagerie of sounds. Like Tanya Anisimova and Maya Beiser, she is able to sing and play cello simultaneously, and keened to great effect in several of the pieces. Like Matt Haimovitz, she channeled Jimi Hendrix when imitating a distorted-feedback, electric guitar rendition of the national anthem. The program's finale was a Silk Road-inspired, East-meets-West production involving a full chamber orchestra with several American Indian musicians sitting in, and others wandering about the hall providing an ever-shifting background of percussion and chanting.

An expanded version of the program will be presented at the Indian Museum this Saturday afternoon.

-- Robert Battey

Louis Schwizgebel-Wang

Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel-Wang just this year emerged from his teens. On Tuesday night he debuted at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater as winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. The recital promised good things as his career matures. He already shows a comprehension of each work's overall direction and an acute sensitivity to the more subtle but essential details of touch and tone that distinguish one work from another -- matters you expect from a musician farther along the concert circuit.

I especially enjoyed Tuesday's opener: Mozart's zesty Sonata in D, K. 311, a mid-career composition (the composer died at 35). In Schwizgebel-Wang's hands, the sonata clearly portrayed Mozart's mannerist-era style, intimating precious detail and ornamented melodiousness. The pianist lost no time underlining these qualities with a perky touch and teasing buffoonery in the Allegros and with wonderfully expressive phrasing in the meditative Andante. Above all, he tackled the fast movements with crisp articulation, providing the pulsing rhythmic bounce obtainable on instruments closer to Mozart's day -- the harpsichord or pianoforte.

Schwizgebel-Wang followed the Mozart with Brahms's Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, Erwin Schulhoff's five "Etudes de Jazz" and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," with all of the music underlining the pianist's virtuosity. He captured Brahms's seething passion, foreboding tension and moody impetuosity. And the Schulhoff sped along in its eclectic mix of American and Latin styles: "Charleston," "Blues" and "Tango" of the Americas, coupled with a cabaret-ish "Chanson" and a macabre dance-inspired "Toccata sur le Shimmy 'Kitten on the Keys.' " Each movement was artfully defined with powerhouse technique and a sly sense of humor.

"Pictures at an Exhibition," which concluded the program, was played with all the cosmic impact needed for a work eventually transcribed for orchestra by Maurice Ravel. Schwizgebel-Wang missed none of the piano version's intimations of symphonic breadth and Olympian orchestral force. Octave tremolos and repeated notes whizzed by as if a demonic monster were trampling over a rugged landscape with unforgiving inevitability -- although the quieter reflective moments had their say as well.

-- Cecelia Porter

© 2007 The Washington Post Company