It is healthy for a Washington that keeps saying that it has just passed the clutural Rubicon with the opening of the Kennedy Cneter and other such palaces and institutions of the arts in the last decade to be remineded that it wasn't born yesterday.
Last night there was a concert at the Textile Museum that marked the 26th successive would premiere dedicated to Hans Kindler, the pioneer who first led the National Symphony Orchestra.
These works sponored by the Kindler Foundation have not always been on the fringes of the avant-garde. Kindler himself did not give Washington the latest Messaien or Boulez, right or wrong, with the frequency of Dorati or Rostropovich.
But the plain truth is that last night's premiere, Tison Street's "Arias for Violin and Piano" was born yesterday only in the most literal sense. It was music of the most conventional late 19th-century tonality, and its phrases were of the broadest rhetoric from that period. The sounds were gorgeous, but Street's work was undercut by following it with Franck's violin sonata, a far more compelling composition in the same vein -- and it is not on the level of the supperb sonatas for the same combination being done by Brahms at about the same time.
We've heard much about the "new romanticism" that is sweeping classical music. So far it has produced few major works -- and this, attractive as it is, is hardly one of them. For superiork works in this idiom, one must resort to formerly unfashionable compositions that were being written by Bernstein, Britten and Polenc during the atonal period. That's what the new mode should aspire to.
Meanwhile, the neo-romanticists must face the fact that the most absorbing violinist Ani Kavafian and pianist James Gennel was a little number called Rhapsody No. 1 by a man who passed beyond this realm 33 years ago named Bela Bartok, As long as people are playing bartok -- and it is hardly conceivable that this should cease to happen -- modernism will be a hard act to follow, by neo-romantisicm or anything else.