PEFORMING ARTS

Antares excelled on
Antares excelled on "Quartet for the End of Time." (Sciolio Artist Management)
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Saturday, May 17, 2008

NSO Pops With Dave Koz

Pops concerts are at something of a demographic crossroads. Subscribers, most of whom are older, prefer show tunes and has-been soloists. Yet two months ago, when the National Symphony Orchestra booked the world-pop collective Pink Martini, young professionals packed the Kennedy Center.

The NSO tried to compromise, with mixed success. "A Date With Dave Koz" is how the symphony billed this final pops concert of the season. Think what you will of smooth jazz, but Koz does sound suave on the saxophone. An urbane purveyor of well-phrased melodies, Koz has better hair than Kenny G and he knows it.

After Koz, his quartet and the NSO ran through a series of cinematic themes, vocalist Monica Mancini joined him onstage to sing two of her father, Henry's, tunes. On any other pops night, she might have been a welcome bonus, but Thursday, Mancini had the misfortune of following 14-year-old Nikki Yanofsky, a Canadian incarnation of Ella Fitzgerald.

Yanofsky scampered onstage, giggled profusely, then stunned the crowd with her vocal maturity. "Old MacDonald Had a (Swingin') Farm" is her signature number, and it's a shame that conductor Marvin Hamlisch didn't slow down the orchestra a bit. (The poor girl kept dropping the second "I" in "E-I-E-I-O.") But she's otherwise something else, with a bright, pitch-perfect voice that left Mancini sounding emphysemic.

The first half of the concert included a handful of Leroy Anderson chestnuts and Hamlisch's cheesy pitch for subscribers to please renew their seats. He listed next season's acts, then pleaded, "Bring the kids to the pops."

Because, you know, kids these days love the Temptations. Maybe, given the success of Yanofsky and Pink Martini, the NSO is better off bringing the kids onstage.

-- Rebecca J. Ritzel "A Date With Dave Koz" concludes tonight at 8.

Antares

Rarely has a piece of music had a more dramatic birth than Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time." Written in 1941 while the composer was interned in a Nazi prison camp, it's a work of often confounding vision and spirituality -- an attempt (as Messiaen has described it) to enter musically into eternity. Not every ensemble is up to that daunting challenge, but Thursday night at the Mansion at Strathmore, the immensely talented quartet Antares made the work the centerpiece of its program -- and brought it off brilliantly.

The evening started with a reading of Ravel's "Mother Goose" suite, though -- which to these ears felt disconcertingly down to earth. Written originally for the children of a friend, the suite is a playful, chimerical thing, drawn in delicate colors and populated with elves, fairies and other exotica. Its magic depends on its lightness, and the robust approach taken by the Antares players (Eric Huebner at the piano, Rebecca Patterson on cello, and clarinetist Garrick Zoeter and violinist Jesse Mills) didn't always show the music to its most gossamer advantage.

Bela Bartok's "Contrasts," by comparison, is about as gossamer as a punch in the face, and received a spectacular -- repeat, spectacular -- performance. Exploding out of the gate, it took off on a wild ride through Hungarian dance forms so exhilarating and propulsive that the players -- Mills and Zoeter, in particular -- looked as if they were about to spontaneously combust.

Flames averted, the ensemble returned for an account of the Messiaen quartet that was no less memorable. Antares has made a specialty of this work, and its absolute commitment was evident throughout; this was an utterly commanding performance, technically superb and radiant with otherworldly majesty. All played with exceptional insight; cellist Patterson gave a stunning account of the movement "Praise to the Eternity of Jesus," while Mills played the final movement as if he'd just received it from some distant, vast and magnificent reach of the cosmos.

-- Stephen Brookes


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