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Director’s Corner Address from Christopher Kendall

As we round the bend toward the latter half of the 2016-2017 season, we find the world changed in unexpected ways since planning for our season early in 2016. Our rather light-hearted, quadrennial “Election Special” in October got the finalists in the presidential race right but, frankly, not its outcome. Now, in these times of unprecedented uncertainty, our programs, focused in December on the Holiday and recent museum developments and in February and March on exhibitions at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM, our home), have the feeling of a deep dive into the world of art apart from its context in the political maelstrom beyond the museum.

As we round the bend toward the latter half of the 2016-2017 season, we find the world changed in unexpected ways since planning for our season early in 2016. Our rather light-hearted, quadrennial “Election Special” in October got the finalists in the presidential race right but, frankly, not its outcome. Now, in these times of unprecedented uncertainty, our programs, focused in December on the Holiday and recent museum developments and in February and March on exhibitions at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM, our home), have the feeling of a deep dive into the world of art apart from its context in the political maelstrom beyond the museum. This is a legitimate response; we can perhaps make our greatest contribution in times like these by focusing on doing what we do best, which is exploring the music of our time in relation to contemporary art. In my years as director or dean of performing art schools in higher education, however, my greatest satisfaction came from encouraging students beyond their familiar zones, as engaged intellectuals in the world of ideas on campus and as artist citizens in their communities. There is a certain tension, then, in thinking about Consort programs relative to the wider world: delving deep or reaching wide? Fortunately, in a series like ours, there is room for a variety of programmatic approaches. In the period ahead, with an intensifying need for the humanizing effect of art, we’ll be looking toward our programmatic responsibilities in light of current developments in the world, even as we continue to focus on the core mission of realizing the intent, the best that we can, of the composers and artists whose visions of the world we celebrate and bring to life.

As we round out the current season, in the meantime, our February 4th, 2017 concert, “Stone Dancing,” is inspired by the SAAM exhibition of work by Isamu Noguchi, the great Japanese/American sculptor and furniture and set designer. the program features music by another Japanese artist whose work merges Eastern and Western aesthetic ideas, Toru Takemitsu, along with music associated with dances for which Noguchi designed sets: John Cage’s “the Seasons” (with Merce Cunningham) and John William’s “Air and Simple Gifts,” arrangement of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” the Martha Graham work premiered at the Library of Congress and for which Noguchi designed the production. It seems poignant, at this juncture, that the Williams arrangement was made for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Recognizing Noguchi’s steadfast commitment to abstraction, we’ve included a couple of works that were seminal in establishing the musical equivalent of abstraction and non-representational painting, namely, atonality. The first is Elliott Carter’s great “Sonata for Violoncello and Piano” from 1948, the period in which Carter was moving away for his earlier, almost Barber-esque tonal language to a far more abstract one that the composer would develop into a monumental technique both rigorous and free. In this, the Sonata shares the searching, experimental tenor of the last, European work on the program, the great early atonal work of Arnold Schoenberg, the “Five Pieces for Orchestra” in the composer’s version for chamber ensemble. Though not directly associated with Noguchi, these pieces are in a sense the progeny of the seismic aesthetic shift in the 20th century from representation to abstraction, from tonality to atonality, a changed artistic environment in which Noguchi flourished and was a master.

On March 25, 2017, we close out the season with “Color School,” a musical reflection of the Washington DC Color School painter Gene Davis, featuring music by indigenous Washington DC composers, including Jessica Krash and Robert Gibson. Also a Washington composer, David Froom is represented by his Clarinet Sonata, which, in keeping with the color school idea, will be accompanied by image projections built on the music, designed and executed by Howard University architecture graduate Alicia Dolabaille. These works are followed by works that take the notion of color and rhythm that permeate Gene Davis’s creation into the vocal realm, with Lucy Shelton joining us for John Chowning’s Voices for soprano and electronics. Finally, we revisit one of the great works closely associated with the Consort (which recorded the work for the English label ASV), “Ghost Dances” by Nicholas Maw. Though British, the U.S. was Maw’s adopted place of residence, and here in Washington he was a beloved participant and supporter of the Consort mission. We count him an honorary DC composer for purposes of this program, and are delighted to revisit this supremely challenging, indubitably colorful and highly rhythmic work:

Jessica Krash - Dangerous Curves
Robert Gibson – Twelve Poems
David Froom – Nightsongs
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John Chowning – Voices
Nicolas Maw – Ghost Dances

We look forward to seeing you at these concerts!
Christopher Kendall