As part of its mission, the National Museum of Women in the Arts hosts a free concert series featuring female performers. It concluded its 20th season Wednesday evening with a performance by the excellent Aizuri Quartet, formed in 2012.
Their surprising program also featured two works composed by women, from opposite ends of music history. The first, “Columba Aspexit,” was a sequence by Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess of the 12th century. A simple arrangement by Alex Fortes cast the chant’s single line against a drone. Playing mostly without vibrato, the quartet reached a monastic unison in the last verse, silently honoring the feast of Saint Maximin of Trier (May 29).
Gabriella Smith also drew on the music of her milieu in “Carrot Revolution,” commissioned for the Aizuri Quartet in 2015. Inspired by the eclectic arrangement of paintings in the Barnes Foundation, she juxtaposed recent popular music and historical music in a funky, active tapestry. Cellist Karen Ouzounian beat rhythms on the body of her instrument, while Ariana Kim, on second violin for most of the program, scrubbed the strings for a washboard-like sound.
The musicians championed this new music expertly, as they did for Lembit Beecher’s “These Memories May Be True,” from 2012, inspired by the composer’s Estonian-born grandmother. Along with misty evocation of her homeland’s folk music in the outer movements, Beecher gave a more insistent rock-like brutality to the second movement, with the cellist’s hollow pizzicato sounding like a martial drumbeat at one point.
Komitas Vartabed set his nation’s melodies more straightforwardly in his “Armenian Folk Songs,” sometimes with the feel of folk instruments. Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat, nicknamed the “Harp,” made an astounding conclusion, with violinist Miho Saegusa switching places with Kim. The musicians (including Ayane Kozasa on viola) again applied vibrato conservatively, imbuing the slow movement with intense melancholy and giving the bracing Scherzo a buzz of energy, like a shot of espresso.