Crossover violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain paired up with jazz pianist Yayoi Ikawa for a concert of many surprises Sunday afternoon at the National Gallery of Art. Roumain narrated the performance with a microphone, speaking in the often rambling manner of a nightclub act. He announced that he was going to change the program, informing us of the pieces before he played them.
The selection was primarily compositions and arrangements by Roumain, and a spirit of political protest, leading up to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," ran through the concert. "I woke up angry this morning," Roumain confided. The violin, Roumain later explained, is "my weapon of choice," and his arrangement of the Haitian national anthem he related to his identity as the "son of two immigrant parents from Haiti." As amplification of both instruments increased throughout the program, the volume level edged toward oppressive.
In Roumain's piece "Filter," early in the concert, the violinist walked through the audience, eventually weaving in the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner." At the point where the melody became unmistakable, Roumain knelt and kept playing on his knees by the fountain in the center of the West Garden Court. The allusion to the protests of professional sports players, on the day of the Super Bowl, was a powerful gesture in this place just a few blocks from the White House.
Roumain was at his most effective when he let go of the polemics, especially in a piece offering a tribute to his father, who died in 2014. Capped by his singing of a wordless minor-mode melody, sometimes in duet with himself on the violin, the piece's simplicity and poignancy were devastating.