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7.12.09

21st Century Consort: "Currier and Ives"


Composer Sebastian Currier
Exploring the American musical landscape, the 21st Century Consort paired two New England composers working a century apart, Charles Ives and Sebastian Currier, in a concert Saturday night at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currier, who was present at the concert, is a wildly different composer from Ives: juxtaposing the two was interesting, if a little hard to understand why, considering the exclusivity of the programming. Nevertheless, the Consort presented a program heavy on music for piano and voice, book-ended by trios, jumping back and forth between the two composers with relative ease.

Currier is a composer who often glances backward at the traditions of the past, and the opening work, Verge, was a delightful nod to Schumann’s Kinderszenen. Inspired by the movement “Almost too serious,” each movement in Currier’s work is titled similarly and attempts to push aesthetic boundaries, without overdoing it. The music was at times almost too fast, light, calm, mechanical, etc., if not also "Almost too esoteric" -- an excellent opening to the program. What followed was a showcasing of baritone William Sharp and pianist Lisa Emenheiser, who presented a smattering of Ives’s songs, interspersed with solo piano works by Currier. Charles Ives, the infamous Yale boy turned insurance salesmen who somehow revolutionized American music on the side, mixed American vernacular song with Protestant church music, Western art music, and his own experimental style. The songs presented Saturday were so deeply rooted in American life that they have become incredibly poignant over time, despite their occasional silliness, and baritone William Sharp beautifully captured their character.


Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, 21st Century Consort transcends gimmickry with well-matched "Currier and Ives" (Washington Post, December 7)
The final work, Ives’s Piano Trio, a synthesis of all the musical spheres Ives worked in, was a difficult finish to a lengthy program that was rooted in song and more audience-friendly fare. The second movement, a deranged romp through dozens of vernacular tunes that would have been familiar to his Yale comrades, was almost a saving grace, but unfortunately was overshadowed by the following and final movement. Comprising the bulk of the trio, the performance of the third movement was all together ponderous. The lack of communication between the players was startling, and though ensemble was never an issue, it created a dry aesthetic that was not helped by the seemingly independent lines of each instrument. Even through the coda, which should be an altogether moving quotation of Thomas Hasting’s well known “Rock of Ages” hymn tune, the music felt flat and uninspired. On a whole, the program as a concept did not quite jell -- despite excellent performances from William Sharp -- and the piano trio, the major work on the billing, seemed out of place, in spite of the inherent respect it demands.

The next concert by the 21st Century Consort (March 13, 5 pm) will feature music by Kaija Saariaho, Scott Wheeler, Evan Chambers, and Robert Parris.

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