not that it's easy to forget. Deak is a member of the double bass section of the New York Philharmonic, a virtuoso player on that ungainly instrument and a composer-performer who has learned to make stringed instruments "talk" with an eerie quality reminiscent of human voices in states of emotional stress. His musical setting of the Dracula story, "Lucy and the Count," has been performed at least twice in Washington -- most recently last week at the Dumbarton Avenue Church -- and a newer opus, "Greetings from 1984," had a hilarious Washington premiere Saturday at the Hirshhorn Museum.
"Greetings from 1984," including readings from George Orwell's book with instrumental commentaries, was the most overtly political item in the Twentieth Century Consort's program, "Election Special." Three living American composers were featured, plus one -- Charles Ives -- who died 30 years ago but seems perennially modern.
Don't look for political overtones in Joan Tower's brilliantly pretty "Petroushskates," which catches both the flavor of Stravinsky's ballet and the smooth-contoured grace of skaters gliding on ice. It may have been played as a tribute to Geraldine Ferraro, but its own beauty is reason enough to enjoy it, even in Washington during an election season.
David Stock's "Scat" is a splendidly athletic piece, wordless but intensely vocal, that combines jazz and classical styles, involves the singer in intricate dialogue with instruments that imitate or contradict her, and has an air of ingenious improvisation. If this reminds you of Jesse Jackson, all right -- but it is absolute music and absolutely enjoyable, particularly in the hands of soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson.
Ives sounds like a Republican. He may have been the most radical composer of his time, but he was also an insurance company executive and he manages often to sound old-fashioned and post-modern at the same time. Some of his songs, sung by Bryn-Julson with excellent piano work by Lambert Orkis, were highly political. Ives was hopping mad about America's rejection of the League of Nations, and he expressed it in a song that still sizzles with indignation. In other songs, he invokes the spirit of the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln. His Piano Trio is not explicitly a portrait of Ronald Reagan, who was not born when it was begun 80 years ago. But it has Reagan's style, a blend of nostalgia, jokes and religious sentimentality. It ends with "Rock of Ages" played on the cello -- exquisitely played by David Hardy in this performance.
All of this was fine, but Deak (remember the name?) provided the program's most striking music if not its greatest. Violinist Elisabeth Adkins had to recite long passages from Orwell ("That face on the poster; its eyes seem to follow you everywhere") as she played. Her music included not only melodies but, for example, an imitation of a squeaking hinge. Her instruments included sandpaper, a harmonica, a pie plate and a police whistle as well as the violin, and she was dressed, like pianist Orkis, in a khaki uniform.
Orkis had less dialogue but more instruments to play, including a dictionary (dropped on the floor) and a pink wind-up toy rabbit with a drum. At one dramatic point, he put on a false nose and moustache for dramatic effect. The music accompanying all this stage business was ingenious, expressive and opportunistic.
One of the Consort's purposes, besides providing a high technical level of performance, is to show that new music can be accessible to audiences. The program did this throughout, and with the aid of Deak and Orwell is also proved highly entertaining. -- Joseph McLellan