ModernMedieval Trio of Voices, which made its Washington debut Wednesday night at the National Museum for Women in the Arts, is a new ensemble with experienced members: Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, formerly of the pioneering early-music group Anonymous 4, and Eliza Bagg and Martha Cluver from the trending Roomful of Teeth. Their largely a cappella program interwove chants of the 12th-century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen with contemporary American works, including five new pieces responding to Hildegard’s music, including a beguiling, succinct “Meditation” by Horner-Kwiatek.
Daniel Thomas Davis’s “Three-Winged Wisdom” began with close harmony in short, archaic-sounding phrases that expanded to longer breaths and seemed at one point to burst onto a sunlit field with a bird symphony at dawn.
The largest, most ambitious work was Joel Phillip Friedman’s “All Things Are Set Ablaze,” during which the singers accompanied themselves on triangle, drum and tambourine, providing an earthy undergirding for more abstract elements in a diverse yet cohesive work of considerable power.
Caroline Shaw’s “Caritas Abundat” was especially vivid. Horner-Kwiatek began phrases in a croaky, low register before seamlessly gliding upward to meet Bragg and Cluver in lofty triadic harmony, like the ascent of a battalion of balloons.
Caleb Burhans chose to set excerpts from an article about Hildegard, rather than a text by her, in “We Cannot Live,” the most outspokenly political work of the evening.
Hildegard’s own music was aptly chosen, and two of the longest works, “O Presul vere Civitatis” and “O Jerusalem,” began and ended the program effectively. Although more than eight centuries separate us from this music, ModernMedieval’s approach to Hildegard is above all natural, emphasizing her fluent expressivity in perfect medieval Latin. Hildegard is always a good listen, and juxtaposed with sympathetic contemporary works, her beauties were especially resplendent.