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IBIS music society festival highlights female composers’ work

The IBIS Chamber Music Society consists of members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and several other well-known chamber music groups. (Matt Mendelsohn/IBIS Chamber Music)

On Sunday the IBIS Chamber Music Society opened a festival of rarely heard music at Arlington’s Rock Spring Congregational Church titled “Women’s Voices Through the Centuries.” The beautifully played eye-opener was the first of two concerts devoted to works by women composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. IBIS consists of members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and several other well-known chamber music groups.

Audiences frequently ask me, “Is there any good women’s music?” and, “Where do we go to hear it?” Harpist Susan Robinson said Sunday, “This festival aims to highlight a few of the extensive stores of never-performed women’s compositions languishing on library shelves.”

The afternoon event highlighted some fascinating compositions in a first-class performance aided by the church’s perfect acoustics. Flutist Adria Sternstein Foster and Robinson opened with a finely wrought version of Stella Sung’s “Dance of the White Lotus under the Silver Moon,” a panoply of boldly contrasting colors and textures tinged with swirling Asian microtones. Robinson gave a ravishing solo account of Germaine Tailleferre’s “Sonate pour Harpe,” a mass of flurrying, insistent melodic motifs segueing into Latin rhythms and a breezy finale. Along with pianist Edward Newman, Daniel Foster offered Rebecca Clarke’s impressionistic Viola Sonata from 1919. Foster’s tone in the meditative Adagio was sumptuous, while both players charged through the other movements with gusto and tight ensemble.

The most striking piece was Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio (violinist Joseph Scheer, cellist Igor Zubkovsky and Newman), an essay in expressing colors in musical terms. The movement “Pale Yellow” seemed an overly anemic statement of neo-classicalism. But “Fiery Red” stormed furiously in a pounding toccata style. Scheer, Joel Fuller, Adria Foster, Daniel Foster and Zubkovsky closed with Amy Beach’s harmonically mellow “Theme and Variations for Flute and String Quartet,” a sonorous recall of Mendelssohn and other romantics laced with zestfully rendered fugues.

The second concert, titled “Wives, Sisters and Daughters,” will be held March 11 at 4 p.m. at the Rock Spring Congregational Church.

Porter is a freelance writer.

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