Water-filled bowls and colorful desk bells played key roles in a spirited and intriguing Sunday afternoon concert by an innovative Eastman School of Music-derived ensemble at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Concluding the first half of its summer tour in Washington, the seven members of the Music in the American Wild ensemble showcased six composers’ nature-inspired works, commissioned to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial.
Evoking the sounds of a forest in Aaron Travers’s “Sanctuary,” flutist Emlyn Johnson, clarinetist Ellen Breakfield-Glick and percussionist Colleen Bernstein mimicked birds through song, woodblocks and chimes as violinist Hanna Hurwitz, violist Emily Sheil, cellist Daniel Ketter and French hornist Lauren Becker created cityscape sounds to represent humanity’s encroachment. Insects, bullfrogs and even a romping bear came to life in Daniel Pesca’s “From Noon to Noon,” while the joy of wilderness hiking poured forth in Robert Morris’s “Birds Soaring Over Mountain Paths.”
Tonia Ko’s “Covers and Uncovers” required the strings and winds to rattle and ring brightly hued desk bells and the percussionist to “play” a metal tube using a threaded metal rod – sights that appeared as curious as they first sounded. However, the juxtaposition of earthy noises with ringing bells and instrumental tones worked well to create an abstract landscape vista.
In Kevin Ernste’s “Interregnum,” the musicians alternated between striking silver bowls with mallets, pouring and swishing water, and playing their instruments to mesmerizing effect. The ensemble dove into Ted Goldman’s “Tilk” — a delightful mash-up of classical, funk, jazz and Broadway-esque melodies — to bring the performance to an uplifting close.