One of the concerts I was really looking forward to attending this year (see my Washington Fall Music Preview, to be supplemented by Jens's recent post on Upcoming Concerts), in the series of free concerts at the Library of Congress, was the Founder’s Day Concert this past Friday (October 29). The George Crumb Ensemble, on the composer's 75th Birthday Tour, appeared at the library, with the Crumb himself on percussion. Sadly, the former Archbishop of Washington, James Cardinal Hickey, passed away last weekend, and much of the past several days, including Friday night, my time has been taken up by singing, with the choir of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, for the Cardinal's funeral services. So, I have to send you to someone who was actually there Friday night, Gail Wein (Revisiting Composer G. Crumb, November 1), who reviewed the concert for the Washington Post:
Thirty-odd years ago the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium was the venue for premieres of two of George Crumb's now-famous works: "Ancient Voices of Children" and "Voice of the Whale." Friday night the 75-year-old composer, one of the fathers of American classical music, returned to the Coolidge stage with an ensemble for a program of works that spanned his entire career.Read the whole thing here.
From the first notes of "Three Early Songs," written when Crumb was a teenager in 1947, soprano Tony Arnold's phenomenal talent was apparent. Arnold delivered Crumb's setting of sentimental texts by Robert Southey and Sara Teasdale with a clear tone, clean diction and an understated earthy quality. The piano accompaniment by Robert Shannon was simple, at least compared with Crumb's later works. There was none of his atonal, angular signature style; instead these works harked back to Rachmaninoff and Debussy.
Another person who was at the Library of Congress that night adds the following observations:
The Coolidge Auditorium was packed for a celebration of George Crumb's 75th birthday. His wife and ensemble had come along in a presentation of a program that began with Eine kleine Mitternachtsmusik, an "interesting" piece with lots of banging and plucking on the piano and riffs on Thelonious Monk and notes of Miles Davis. The second piece, an early, old song felt sort of like "being in a victorian mansion." Soprano Tony Arnold had a very big, round voice. The third piece was set to a poem by Walt Whitman, also in an older style and less interesting that the preceding piece. The fourth piece was inspired by the composer's dogs and provided the impetus for Crumb to learn to play the percussion instruments on which he performed. That includes an impressive, hugely reverberant "water-gong."