The most fun at Monday night's Contemporary Music Forum concert in the Corcoran Gallery came with the world premiere of "Nursery Rhymes" by Frances McKay. For some of Beatrix Potter's most famous lines -- "Goosey, goosey, gander, whither will you wander?" "Three blind mice," "This pig went to market," "You know the old woman who lived in a shoe?" and many more, McKay wrote intricate music -- in honor of her 3-year-old twins' birthday.
Her percussion section includes cymbals, gongs, wind chimes, woodblocks, drums, xylophone, castanets, tubular chimes, triangle, rattle, celesta and nine glasses of differing sizes, filled with various amounts of water. There was also a flute, piano and soprano-narrator. The music is a parade of all the wispy sounds you can imagine. Its complexities do not obstruct the pleasant delights of the verse, particularly since each poem was preceded by a slide showing the famous Potter drawings of all the characters.
The least fun came in Roger Sessions' Duo for violin and piano, dryly played, which is not the style the music needs if it is to capture listeners today.
Kenneth Jacobs contributed the most fascinating work of the evening, a score for tape called "Winter Strategy," in which music is accompanied by 240 slides shown in groups of three, thanks to three projectors. Often the slides are symmetrical, like the built-in repetitiousness of the music. Depicting the four seasons, the slides range from Georgia O'Keeffe-like flora to more and less abstract designs. While the music is fairly conventional, its aural appeal, combined with the intriguing visual presentation, sustains its 20-minute length.
Mark Wilson's "Proteus," also a world premiere, is scored for piano and tape. The piano, played with marked virtuosity by Barbro Dahlman, sounded rather like Scriabin. The tape offered sounds of exotic if conventional beauty, altered at the end to suggest forgotten organ music by Cesar Franck, abetted briefly by a male chorus.
Wilson, McKay and Jacobs were in the audience to enjoy the substantial applause for their music.