21st Century Consort at American Art Museum
Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 04:04PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • December 6, 2010

aybe it’s not too surprising that we’re fascinated by water -- we’re mostly made up of the stuff, after all -- and composers in particular have always been drawn to it. Perhaps that’s because water is so much like music itself: constantly in motion, with profound depths and astounding power under a surface of infinite variety. Whatever the reason, water is still inspiring some of the most interesting music of our time, as the 21st Century Consort demonstrated in a remarkable concert at the American Art Museum on Saturday titled, “Unruly Landscapes.”

David FroomLoosely linked to “The Pond,” an ongoing exhibit of photographs by John Gossage, the program opened with “The Stream Flows” for solo violin, by the Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng. It was likeable enough, if traditional Chinese melodies tarted up in a modern idiom float your boat. Much more satisfying was David Froom’s Piano Trio No. 2 “Grenzen” -- a piece so full of life it almost bursts out of its skin – which received a spectacularly energetic and focused performance from Elisabeth Adkins on violin, Rachel Young on cello, and Lisa Emenheiser at the piano.

Donald CrockettEmenheiser is so diminutive that you half expect her to be blown away by the first strong breeze, but in fact she brought volcanic power to Alan Mandel’s “Steps to Mt Olympus,” whose title sums up its outsized gestures and almost Romantic thundering. Far more involving was Emenheiser’s reading of “Thoreau,” the last movement of Charles Ives’s “Concord” sonata. Not every pianist can make genuine sense of this confounding work, but Emenheiser infused it with delicate, ephemeral poetry; even Ives would have been impressed.

The real high points of the evening, though, were two gorgeous works by the West Coast composer Donald Crockett. There’s a great naturalness and effortlessness in Crockett’s writing, and “to be sung on the water” – a hymn-like duet performed by violinist Adkins, with Abigail Evans on viola – had a kind of distant, otherworldly glow, like nymphs singing from some underwater realm. His horn quintet “La Barca” (with Laurel Ohlson on horn) was far closer to the surface, but no less beautiful – a work of relentless inventiveness from a composer we really should hear more of.

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