According to Christopher Kendall, 1975 was the year of "Jaws," Patty Hearst's apprehension and the death of Dmitri Shostakovich. It was, incidentally, also the year the 20th Century Consort began operation.
To celebrate a decade of modern music making, conductor and artistic director Kendall and the Consort brought three Pulitzer Prize-winning works (and their composers) to the Hirshhorn Museum Saturday evening. Joseph Schwantner, George Crumb and Stephen Albert were part of the audience treated to a program rich in diversity, reflecting the mixed state of affairs in contemporary music.
Schwantner's "Sparrows," written for the Consort in 1979, exploits the concentrated imagery of 15 haiku using soprano voice and chamber ensemble. The writing is such that vocalist and instrumentalists are equals -- the players even chime in as a quiet choir when the sparrow is mentioned. At one point the string players bow antique cymbals, suggesting a supernal vision behind the line "The river of heaven."
The other vocal work, "Into Eclipse" by Albert, is a bleak setting of the Oedipus story. Tenor David Gordon soared well above range to depict the tragic figure confronting his fate. A myriad of stylistic devices gives the work a dreamlike state, where ironies rule.
Pianists Lambert Orkis, James Primosch and Jan Orkis, dressed in basic burglar's black, brought Crumb's "Mechanics" (from "Makrokosmos IV") down to earth. The piece, an updated approach to the piano-four-hands genre, calls for the page turner (Orkis) to lend two more hands in several spots. Six hands altered the instrument's sound to variously resemble a guitar, a koto and a harpsichord with a bad adenoid condition.