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Verdehr Trio at the Phillips

By Stephen Brookes
The Washington Post • October  24, 2007

The Michigan-based Verdehr Trio has been one of the most influential chamber groups in contemporary American music for three decades, commissioning more than 170 new works. The trio -- Walter Verdehr on violin, Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr on clarinet and Silvia Roederer on piano -- continued that worthy mission Sunday afternoon, presenting three recent works (including two world premieres) by American composers at the Phillips Collection.

Augusta Read Thomas
The standout piece was Augusta Read Thomas's "Dancing Helix Rituals" from 2006. It's a dance, certainly -- but a wild, driving, exhilarating dance that hurtled out of the gate and built into a riot of jazzy rhythms and colorful gestures. Like all good rituals, it was intoxicating -- and the trio brought it off with a fine, eloquent frenzy.

Equally interesting, if opposite in every way, was James Holt's 2005 "Frisson." Holt is a newly minted PhD, but don't hold that against him -- he's clearly no ivory-tower pedant. Opening with dark, shifting clouds of sound, the work's initial shudder slowly grew to an anguished climax; not always easy on the ears, but extremely powerful. Though it followed a well-worn dramatic arc, the piece was full of intriguingly suspended tensions and probing ideas, and the ending -- awash in ambiguity -- worked beautifully.

Verdehr introduced William Wallace's 2004 "Sonata a Tre" as a "romantic" work, and with its warm sonorities and flowing passagework, gently seasoned with asymmetric rhythms, it was the most accessible of the new works. But for all its sophisticated charm, it lacked the distinctive personality and sense of adventure of the other pieces on the program; romantic on the surface, but rather mechanical underneath.

For more information on Augusta Read Thomas, click here.   For more on James Holt, click here. 

Posted on Friday, October 26, 2007 at 09:15AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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