The Library of Congress marks a special anniversary this year, having opened its 90th season of concerts Saturday night. This free concert series on Capitol Hill has continued to change in content, reflecting the musical interests of its programmers. In recent years, early-music ensembles have been added to the mix of more traditional chamber music, as well as folk music, Broadway and others.
One thing has remained constant: a devotion to music by living composers. Opening the season with the piano and percussion quartet Yarn/Wire, playing music mostly from the past decade, was an admirable symbolic gesture. Tristan Murail’s “Travel Notes” gave a sense of movement with the opening theme, clusters traded back and forth between the two pianos, in a refrain that functioned like the promenade music in Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Otherwise, much of the piece seemed like barely comprehensible cacophony, with the tubular bells at the climax painfully loud in the library’s small auditorium.
Luciano Berio’s “Linea,” from the distant past of 1973, grew out of a single melodic line that itself grew out of the opening interval, a minor third. A swinging coda veered oddly in the direction of Bernstein and American jazz. Alex Mincek’s “Pendulum VI: Trigger” combined four-hand prepared piano scratches and percussion thuds in a mostly pitch-less groove, its steady pulse a welcome relief from a largely non-
In David Brynjar Franzson’s “Negotiation of Context (B),” the rising chromatic scale heard several times in the piano pointed, perhaps unintentionally, to the tuning of a piano as one of the everyday sounds used by the composer. Misato Mochizuki added the dimension of spatiality in “Le monde des ronds et des carrés” by having the percussionists walk about the auditorium. When all four players ended up together pounding on a drum set, it was another assault on the ears.
Downey is a freelance writer.