To celebrate the last installment of its eight-part series on Danish culture, the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program Tuesday evening sponsored a concert in Baird Auditorium featuring that country's official state string quartet. A 17-year-old ensemble, the Kontra Quartet naturally includes a sizable amount of Danish music in its repertory (and more unexpectedly likes to roll up its sleeves and dig into a fair amount of this century's as well), so this group's selection as the series's musical illustrators seemed entirely appropriate.
Just how appropriate became apparent just a few moments into the program, which comprised native works by young contemporary composers Hans Abrahamsen and Steen Pade, as well as the Third String Quartet by Denmark's musical patron saint, Carl Nielsen. The Kontra is a remarkable, agile, expressive group of musicians who brought life and exuberance to all they played.
Interestingly, the younger works were complex and colorful (the Abrahamsen especially), built on more solid musical foundations than much of the minimal yet fashionable music written in our country today. If they are not indicative of the compositional mainstream in modern Denmark, then the Danish Music Information Center -- which chose this program -- should be congratulated for its taste. The Kontra gave these pieces readings that sounded facile through practice and familiarity, and underpinned both with an engaging rhythmic feel. The Nielsen, a large, attractively romantic quartet from 1898, could have no better advocates than these four serious and passionate players.