In performance: 21st Century Consort
21st Century Concert showcases local "Characters"
by Joe Banno
Saturday’s 21st Century Consort program at the American Art Museum was dubbed “Characters” -- the title of a new work by the Virginia composer Thomas Albert that had its premiere at the concert, and a reference to the numerical and alphabetical characters that inspired the other works being performed. Albert’s “Characters” incorporates poems by Amy A. Young (a local schoolteacher who was recently named the Poet Laureate of Alexandria) that treat each letter of the alphabet to playful and urbane snatches of verse (reminiscent of Ogden Nash at his airiest), and video projections designed by Wendall K. Harrington.
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Affectionately conducted by Consort artistic director Christopher Kendall, Albert’s scoring for a small ensemble of strings, winds, piano and percussion translated Young’s verses into a set of attractive little Neo-Impressionist tone poems (shifting stylistic gears with a charming homage to Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” for the letter “W”). Harrington’s projections – an amalgam of animated line drawings, watercolors and clip-art – provided witty counterpoint, as did the spoken narration of Young’s poems by soprano Lucy Shelton (though, oddly, the poems for “A” and “B” were omitted from the narration).
Elsewhere, Shelton sang a riveting account of Lucas Foss’s stark, moodily dissonant set of songs, “Time-Cycle,” making every whispered phrase, octave leap and expressive slide mean something. Sebastian Currier’s fascinating deconstruction of clock mechanics and the incremental passage of time, “Clockwork," also received a committed, beautifully gauged reading from violinist Elizabeth Adkins and pianist Lisa Emenheiser. Only Steve Reich’s bristling “Typewriter Music” – for manual typewriter, clapping and percussion – disappointed, with a tentative, rhythmically spongy performance that sounded under-rehearsed.
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