When composer Anthony Stark, long a figure on the new music scene in Washington and Baltimore, died in August at age 60, he had chalked up a quarter-century of involvement with the Contemporary Music Forum. The first concert of the group's season at the Corcoran Gallery on Monday was dedicated to his memory.
After a brief but touching tribute by soprano Pamela Schiffer, it was nearly impossible not to be moved by the performance of Stark's "Varius," written in 1989. Flutist David Lonkevich, violinist Lina Bahn, cellist Lori Barnet and percussionist Barry Dove clearly put their hearts as well as their musical expertise into this well-crafted work.
In another poignant moment, it was easy to understand Schiffer's emotional performance of "Loss," the final song of David Burge's mostly whimsical "Life Begins at 40." Each of the five songs featured a formulaic piano style, such as blues, jazz or Bach, which pianist Arno Drucker adopted as solo fare, frequently overpowering Schiffer's dramatic voice.
Barnet nobly tackled Douglas Boyce's "Ox House Camel Door," composed this year. In this work for solo cello, Boyce lavished on the special effects, from harmonics to glissandi to striking the strings with the wood of the bow, all of which Barnet handled as easily as a Bach Partita.
The Forum reached back 40 years for George Crumb's "Madrigals, Book II." The performances of soprano Kathryn Hearden, percussionist Dove and flutist Lonkevich were fine individually, though the ensemble lacked some cohesion.
-- Gail Wein