The Washington premiere Sunday of a bold new harp concerto capped an engaging and powerful performance of recent music by members of the Phillips Camerata, the resident ensemble of Washington’s Phillips Collection; the Quartet Senza Misura; and musicians from the New York-based Metropolis Ensemble.
Sunday’s combination of forces was a fortunate grouping of young musicians dedicated to contemporary music and sharing a truly visionary outlook. (We clearly need another way to distinguish between avant-garde compositions of the 1950s, still called “contemporary,” and today’s “contemporary” music hot off the press.)
The forceful collaboration was conducted by Grammy-nominee Andrew Cyr, a prominent influence in the world of newly emerging music. The afternoon opened with the Washington premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s “High Windows,” for solo string quartet and string ensemble. It is an imaginative work in a personal minimalist fashion calling for powerfully lunging bows, sighing harmonics and perky half-tone statements. Cyr led the players with tasteful panache, emphasizing the fluidity of the music. One of the lush moments in the ever-changing texture of the Cerrone echoed Samuel Barber’s elegiac temperament.
Cyr then led his players with driven, but elegant force in Steve Reich’s “Duet for Two Violins and Strings” and Elliott Carter’s Bariolage for solo harp. Both Reich and Carter’s music reflected an earlier version of Reich’s minimalist style of continually overlapping processes and Carter’s ever-fluctuating ideas. For the Reich, the players tackled insistent syncopations and interlocking motifs with seeming ease. In the Carter, harpist Bridget Kibbey, at once confident and delicate, displayed her instrument’s wide-ranging vocabulary for music, revealing ever-fluctuating tempos, lightning-fast leaps and the chordal richness of the piece.
Joined by a string quartet, Kibbey gave nuanced voice to the black atmosphere of Nathan Shields’ brooding “Tenebrae,” underlining its snatches of elusive luminance. In Vivian Fung’s Concerto for Harp, which was commissioned by the Phillips and other musical organizations, Kibbey’s bravura and sensitivity, especially in her cadenza, outlined the music’s intriguing mix of timbres, thorny sonorities, wailing glissandos and chirping pizzicatos echoed in the strings. In between, amusing parodies of a waltz and tango lightened up the texture. The drums and other percussion joined in, giving zest and a shade of violence to the composition.
Three of Sunday’s compositions were Washington premieres: Cerrone’s “High Windows,” Shields’ “Tenebrae” and Fung’s Concerto for Harp. Both Cerrone and Shields were on hand to explain their compositions. The concert’s end brought enthusiastic applause and cheering, concluding the Phillips’ Sunday musical 2013-2014 season.
Porter is a freelance writer.