Harpsichord Competition

The Alienor Harpsichord Composition Awards began last night at Mount Vernon College's Hand Chapel. The awards are part of the current conclave of the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society, encouraging new compositions for solo, unamplified harpsichord. The harpsichord is often an instrument of reason offered up in lieu of feeling. The best news in this concert was in the diversity of the pieces by the six competitors, with something for almost every taste.

The finest was "Phantasmagoria" by Chan Ka Nin, played by Elizabeth Keenan. Engaging, exciting and unmistakably new, it began with what sounded like a hailstorm in a crystal palace, followed by meaningful rests and witty phrases that would have pleased Stravinsky. "Sunbow" by Albert Glinsky exploited counterpoint without forgoing heart-rending song. Harpsichordist Linda Kobler served the composer well, creating the illusion of legato with each spiraling melody.

"Five Miniatures" by George Koukel was played by the composer with distinctive tonal colors. Thomas Benjamin's "Three Movements for Harpsichord" opened the concert, played by Elaine Funaro. On first hearing, it seemed a neoclassical figure swathed in flimsy material, all in inevitable shades of Falla. Michael Kallstrom's "Sunspots," played by Mark Brombaugh, proved too many and too dark. Donald Dragansky's "Fra Amici," heard on tape,closed the evening with a jubilant smile.

The Alie'nor Awards competition continues at 3 p.m. tomorrow with a concert at Mount Vernon. -- Octavio Roca Tribute to Benny Goodman

Last night's performance of Bela Bartok's "Contrasts" at the Library of Congress was dedicated to the memory of Benny Goodman, who died yesterday. Goodman and violinist Josef Szigeti commissioned the work from Barto'k in 1938 and performed it with the composer at the piano at the Library of Congress in April 1940.

The focused energy of Alexis Galpe'rine's violin and Lambert Orkis' piano drove the piece, while Loren Kitt's reading of this sometimes frenetic music was very much in the Goodman spirit.

The slow, soulful second movement, titled "Relaxation," was much more melancholy.

Kitt showed the advantages of performing the Opus 11 Trio by Beethoven with the original clarinet instead of the commonly substituted violin. It is in either case a pleasant piece, perfect for a summery evening. But Kitt's clarinet brought the music to life.

In the final movement, a theme with variations, Orkis' bubbling piano and Evelyn Elsing's firm cello were offset by the almost jazzlike quality of Kitt's clarinet. -- Vince Stehle Capitol Opera

Mozart's comic operas always end happily, and so the Capitol Opera's production last night of "The Abduction From the Seraglio" was no surprise. Held in the tiny hall at St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington, the full-length version of the work showed commendable effort by the local company, and repeat performances tonight and next weekend (with rotating casts) should prove relaxed fun.

Under Thomas Ludwig's direction, the small orchestra and singers appeared enthusiastic about the Turkish setting, and that made up for some of the less polished acting and vocal skills; but then, "The Abduction" is a very difficult work despite the light character of the plot. Familiar tunes, such as the opening of Act III, were delivered with more verve than the obscure melodies.

The female leads -- Mary Carrigan's Constanza and Victoria Copp's Blonde -- displayed the best technique (their upper registers were especially clear and true) and gave the smoothest performances. Copp has a delightfully captivating stage presence that energized all of her scenes. Anastasios Vrenios as Belmonte and Ozie Jamison as Osmin both had pleasant voices that projected nicely over the orchestra. -- Kate Rivers Gerry Mulligan and the NSO

A baritone saxophonist and a symphony orchestra may seem an odd coupling, but last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Gerry Mulligan and the National Symphony worked together as smoothly as a Swiss watch.

The finest of the four orchestra-backed selections was "Entente," with its stop-time brass section figures and contrasting textures of solitary harp and full orchestra behind the saxophonist's sinuous line.

A brief set by Mulligan's quartet alone offered a ballad, a Latin tune and a wailing, stomping "Out Back of the Barn." Pianist Bill Mays' solo on this number evolved from after-hours blues to Thelonious Monkish accents to double-tempo stride. Bean Johnson was on bass and Rich DeRosa was at the drums. Fabio Mechetti conducted.

The performance repeats tonight. -- W. Royal Stokes