In performance: "Currier and Ives"
21st Century Consort transcends gimmickry with well-matched "Currier and Ives"
by Joan Reinthaler
Occasionally all the stars seem to align for an event, and Saturday's 21st Century Consort concert at the Smithsonian's McEvoy Auditorium was one of those times. The program -- music of Sebastian Currier and Charles Ives (and hence called "Currier and Ives") -- might have been a gimmick, but in fact these two American composers, who wrote a century apart, were ideally matched. The Consort's Artistic Director Christopher Kendall structured the program with a sure ear for balance and subtlety -- trios at the beginning and the end, with songs and piano solos in between -- and he assembled a superb group of artists in violinist Elisabeth Adkins, clarinetist Paul Cigan, cello player Rachel Young, pianist Lisa Emenheiser and baritone William Sharp.
(read more after the jump)
Whereas many composers have written etudes, lessons in technique dressed up as performance pieces, Currier writes etudes for the mind. His trio "Verge," for piano, violin and clarinet, which began the concert, has nine short movements titled "almost too fast," "almost too slow" and so on through "too mechanical," "dark," "light," "fractured," "much," "little" and "calm." Each one hovers on the "almost" border (really a challenge for the performers to keep it there) and does so briefly and brilliantly. His textures are transparent, his harmonies fluid and, though he often has the instruments going separate ways, his sonorities are coherent. Emenheiser handled his piano pieces, "Scarlatti Cadences," a dalliance on stock Scarlatti idioms, and "Brainstorm," a more abstract exploration of angular thematic material, with wonderful clarity and delicacy.
If Currier demands that the listener integrate his music's ingredients in the mind, Ives demands almost the opposite, that the listener separate out its component parts but hear them all simultaneously. Although his songs are almost straightforward (and Sharp delivered some with just the right amount of corny fervor and appealing longing), his Trio for violin, cello and piano is full of his favorite Ives-ism -- the jumbling of several hymns, songs and patriotic melodies together into chaotic sonorities that conjure up turn-of-the-century scenes (in this case, his years at Yale), but then magically morph into the most banal of harmonies. This reading preserved the chaos, order and resulting humor with panache.
-- Joan Reinthaler
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