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21st Century Consort: Fields of Color

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • April 8, 2008
Helen Frankenthaler, Blue Atmosphere
For much of the last four decades, the 21st Century Consort has presented concerts that link the work of modern visual artists to that of contemporary composers. In its final concert of the 2007-08 season at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on Saturday, the group took on the work of American painters like Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski, presenting some lively and intriguing new work that played off the museum's current exhibit "Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975."

But the obvious period suspects -- composer Morton Feldman jumps to mind -- were nowhere to be heard. Nearly all the works were written in the last few years, and while marquee composers Libby Larsen and Charles Wuorinen were represented, the focus was on less famous names. David Froom's "Lightscapes" was an involving study in contrasts for flute and piano, and Evan Chambers's "Rothko-Tobey Continuum" blended a luminous, wistful violin line, deeply evocative of Rothko, with a recorded track that echoed Mark Tobey's hieroglyphic canvases. Played by Elisabeth Adkins with her usual thoughtful poise, it was lyrical and -- considering it was partially written (er, "generated") by a computer -- undeniably poignant.

The real weight of the concert, though, came in two contrasting works: James Primosch's brooding "Dark the Star" and Bruce MacCombie's "Color and Time." Built around poems by Susan Stewart and Rainer Maria Rilke, "Dark the Star" is a low-voiced journey through shadows, suffused with night and death, and received a suitably uncompromising performance from baritone William Sharp. By contrast, the MacCombie work was filled with delicate light and subtle washes of color. Perhaps the most purely enjoyable work of the afternoon, it was sung with deft precision by the Cantate Chamber Singers, under the direction of Gisèle Becker.

Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 10:53PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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