Under the ambiguous title of "Popcycle," the 20th Century Consort presented a fascinating, entertaining and multicolored program Saturday at the Hirshhorn Museum.
Focusing on compositions that integrate popular material into classical contexts, the imaginatively assembled and expertly played program demonstrated that many serious composers have become listener-friendly in the last three decades or so.
A key work for this demonstration was George Rochberg's 1972 composition "Electrikaleidoscope," whose five movements form an arch, alternating between acoustic performances of classical material (movements 1, 3 and 5) and amplified movements (2 and 4) accurately titled "Blues Rock." This was a central work in the process of Rochberg's breaking away from the 12-tone system, a liberation ultimately joined by virtually every American composer. It is colorful, melodious, ingenious and energetic music, and it got a brilliant performance from violinist Elisabeth Adkins, clarinetist Paul Cigan, pianist Lisa Emenheiser, flutist Adria Sternstein and cellist Rachel Young.
Adkins and Emenheiser gave an idiomatic account of William Bolcom's lyrical, jazzy, deeply emotional Second Sonata for Violin and Piano, which included a tribute to the great jazz violinist Joe Venuti, and Young joined Emenheiser for "Ten American Folksongs," by Mark Kuss. In this work, Kuss defines advertising jingles (for cigarettes, insurance, canned tuna, chocolate, hot dogs, etc.) as folk songs, and he arranges the familiar tunes instrumentally with hilarious touches.
The most elaborate of his 10 sections takes the melody "Winston tastes good," long banned from television, and subjects it to four elaborate variations, including one in which you might hear a hint of coughing. The final number, devoted to an airline, appropriately takes off. There are enormous demands on the cellist, and Young met them with wit and brilliance.
Composer-pianist Paul Schoenfield joined Young and Adkins for his fourth piano trio, titled "Four Music Videos," which had two movements dedicated to bossa nova and samba, allusions to 1950s rock-and-roll, and a bit of soundtrack music for a nonexistent movie. The performance sounded definitive.
-- Joseph McLellan