David Hardy, the National Symphony Orchestra's youngest member and assistant principal cellist, combined virtuoso technique with deep musical sensitivity in an all-too-unusual program last night at the British Embassy. The program was unusual not only in its overall quality and variety, but in that it featured living women composers on an equal basis with men--appropriately, since the concert was sponsored by American Women Composers Inc.
The first half was devoted to people named Beethoven and Britten, who are not unfamiliar to music-lovers. The second half featured Judith Shatin Allen and Blythe Owen, who are.
The two women could hardly have been in more prestigious company, and it would be idle to pretend that they made the two B's look like rank amateurs. But Allen's "Sursum Corda" for unaccompanied cello and Owen's Sonata Fantaisie, Opus 3, for cello and piano were both well-made, attractive pieces, sharply contrasting in style but qualitatively a match for most of the music we are apt to hear by living male composers.
These two works are the tip of an iceberg. A very long, stylistically ultra-varied and qualitatively superb music festival could be given without ever resorting to compositions by males: music of Barbara Kolb, Jean Eichelberger Ivey, Pozzi Escot, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Pauline Oliveros and scores of others, not to mention women of previous centuries. Women have been composing music since it began to exist as an artistic discipline in ancient Greece, and only briefly, in the most exceptional circumstances, has their contribution been adequately recognized.
Allen's "Sursum Corda" is a brilliant essay in modernism, with soaring lyric lines that emerge gradually and triumphantly from a series of cool displays of technical brilliance: glissando harmonics, simultaneous bowed and pizzicato notes, gruff declamation and sparkling arpeggios. Owen's Sonata Fantaisie, a piece of unabashed, heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism represents, as its name indicates, a triumph of wayward lyricism over strict sequential logic. They appeal to sharply different tastes, as did Beethoven's Sonata in C, Opus 102, No. 1 and Britten's Suite for cello solo, Opus 72, in the first half. But their appeal was masterfully conveyed by Hardy, with superb piano partnership by Julian Martin. These performers will repeat the male half of the program tonight at the Wolf Trap Barns, and they are well worth hearing, even with Rachmaninoff substituted for the women composers.