The Atlas Performing Arts Center may be a step or two off the beaten track for most concertgoers, but it’s fast becoming a key destination for anyone interested in new American music. Under the direction of Armando Bayolo, the center’s New Music Series has brought some of the country’s most inventive young performers and composers to Washington, and it continued that noble mission on Sunday with the debut of a fine new trio named Mirage, in a program of 21st-century music notable for its striking lyricism, tenderness and warmth.
“We play music that we love, by composers we believe in,” said soprano Lindsay Kesselman as the concert opened, and that affection was audible throughout the afternoon. The music ranged from quietly poignant (Robert Honstein’s luminous “We Choose to Go to the Moon,” built around President John F. Kennedy’s famous words) to operatic (“How I Hate This Room” by Lee Kesselman, tracing a woman’s descent into madness) to the dreamlike “yes I said yes I will Yes” by Amy Beth Kirsten, a colorful setting of Molly Bloom’s remembered passion in the closing soliloquy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”
David Lang’s “Heroin,” for voice and cello, had a moving simplicity and directness, but not everything on the program worked quite as well. John Corigliano’s “Clothes Line” came off as an effete, through-the-lorgnette take on Bob Dylan’s lyrics, hardly an improvement on the gritty original. And Ruben Naeff’s lively “Fill the Present Day with Joy” began with an engaging idea — use lyrics taken from Facebook updates — but got a little too cutesy when the players started checking their cellphones during the performance.
The Mirage players — Nicholas Photinos on cello and Yasuko Oura on piano, as well as soprano Kesselman — played with virtuosity and conviction all afternoon, and those qualities were on full display in perhaps the most accomplished work on the program, Kaija Saariaho’s shimmering, otherworldly “Mirage” — a piece that inspired the group’s name. It’s a work of ravishing sonic beauty and imagination, rich in both complexity and poetry, and the trio gave it a vivid and completely assured reading — a memorable performance in every way.
Brookes is a freelance writer.