'Millennium's Edge': Music by Women
"At the Millennium's Edge: the Ninth Annual Concert of Chamber Music by Women," at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Sunday afternoon, presented seven compositions, some more fully realized than others. One of the most challenging pieces, "Secret Ground" by Judith Shatin, mixed eerie cello tones (played by Fiona Thomson) and a squeaking clarinet (Berkeley Price) to simulate wind streaking through a canyon. An energetic passage of dissonant counterpoint between Thomson's cello and Sarah Wetherbee's violin concluded the piece, with the two artists moving their bows in a circular glissade motion over one string, a return of the wind imagery.
Harpist Anne LeBaron demonstrated her instrument's range by thumping on the frame, bowing the strings and using the tuning key to make the strings moan during "Solar Music," her composition for harp and four flutes, all played by Alison Potter.
Led by British/Swiss conductor Monica Buckland Hofstetter, the Roosevelt Ensemble and oboist Patricia Morehead forged an extended dialogue in "Concerto for Oboe and Instrumental Ensemble" composed by Maria A. Niederberger. "August Swale" by Beth Anderson, the most accessible of the works presented, held snatches of Celtic and Gypsy melodies. "Almah" by Mela Meierhans was an effort to assign musical values to the light shafts coming through the windows of Le Corbusier's Notre-Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp, France. Since light does not fall in static patterns, the string quartet used jagged nuance, stopping, then stabbing forward while Larry Williams wandered around the auditorium using the space to modulate his French horn's lines.
--L. Peat O'Neil
Capitol Woodwind Quintet
A woodwind quintet is a singular instrumental assortment that can be spellbinding for players and audience alike. Together, the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn can create an aura of both spaciousness and pastoral elegance. Sunday at Temple Micah, the Capitol Woodwind Quintet probed all the channels of expression available to their medium. Of the five veteran musicians, Alice Kogan Weinreb (flute), Truman Harris (bassoon) and Laurel Bennert Ohlson (horn) are National Symphony Orchestra members; Kathleen Golding (oboe) and Lora Ferguson (clarinet) are Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra performers.
Sunday's program began with Jurriaan Andriessen's airy six-part "Sciarada Spagnuola," in which the quintet alternated molten corporate legato with stretches of agile passage work. The group's version of Walter Piston's "Three Pieces" bounced along with touches of witty esprit.
The quintet reveled in the sonorously capacious depths of Samuel Barber's sometimes languid, sometimes burlesque "Summer Music." The Quintet in D, Op. 91, No. 3, of Anton Reicha--a Beethoven contemporary who wrote a treatise on how to improve on Mozart--combined symphonic breadth with virtuoso playing.
Jewish Community Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Joel Lazar's program Sunday afternoon with the Jewish Community Center Symphony Orchestra consisted of seemingly unrelated pieces that--through the miraculous alchemy of one genius influencing another--are cognate in sensibility and spirit, though not in form. Richard Strauss wrote his Oboe Concerto in 1945 when Germany was in ruins. He retreated artistically to the classical purity and sublime craftsmanship of Mozart, creating a work of light, beckoning melody within an almost weightless orchestral weave. Oboist Rudolph Vrbsky's delicate, beautifully phrased performance was virtually flawless, but cool; the orchestra supported well.
In his Fourth Symphony, Beethoven assimilated the essence of Mozart and Haydn without ever looking back--Mozart's effervescence and Haydn's bubbling wit become mirth so vast and roaring that we get the joke but can't recover from it.
Although Lazar's orchestra is composed of gifted amateurs and he knows there will be imperfections along the way, he drove this symphony relentlessly and somehow got what he was after: an exuberant, large-scale realization of an immensely difficult score.
Imperfections of execution were secondary to the broad sweep of Lazar's vision, and didn't much matter.