On October 1, 2022, the 21st Century Consort under the artistic direction of Christopher Kendall and hosted by the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, presented Threnody, a rare and accomplished concert of mostly women composers. The Dresser notes that the two-hour concert included works by seven contemporary women and the late David Froom, who served on the board of directors for the 21st Century Consort. Most of the compositions dealt with loss and grieving which speaks thematically to Threnody, the title of this program.
The program opened with Armenian-American Tatev Amiryan’s serene composition for piano Tristesse, in which the composer pays homage to the Armenian composer Komitas (1869-1935). Komitas suffered an irrecoverable mental breakdown in 1915 after witnessing horrors of the Armenian Genocide. Pianist Lisa Emenheiser performed with poetic aplomb, giving even the single notes of this work dramatically deserved emphasis.
Following next, Susan Kander’s composition And Then Not was performed by clarinetist Paul Cigan and percussionist Lee Hinkle. A sometimes strident work, it features interesting textures and a full range of sound and tone achieved with several different kinds of clarinets, including the bass clarinet and a wide variety of percussion instruments, such as drums, wood block, bells, marimba and timpani.
Next, violinist Ying Fu delivered an outstanding performance of Elena Ruehr’s sweet lyricism of Klein Suite in two movements.
Concluding the first half of the program was David Froom’s Lament for the City in an arrangement by Juri Seo. As Kendall explained in the pre-concert talk, Froom originally arranged this piece for the period instruments of the Folger Consort. Froom took inspiration from his collaboration partner Sue Standing’s poem that deals with tikkun olam which in Jewish practice concerns finding a way to repair what is broken in the world. The richly satisfying work included baritone voice, guitar, violin, viola, cello, flute, saxophone, and percussion. Baritone William Sharp’s well enunciated interpretation of Standing’s poem provided the only access to the text which did not apprear in the printed program. Colin Davin on guitar struck notes reminiscent of mandolin and the sounds of Sarah Frisof on flute floated above the lyricism of the standard modern strings. A bit disturbing to this revery was the intrusive tapping of Lee Hinkle on the tambour. However, maybe Froom meant this off-kilter sound to be the reminder of broken things in the world.
Stacy Garrop’s five-part Pieces of Sanity for piano and saxophone opened the second half of the concert. The movements Rage, Despair, Possessed, Stoic are meant to jar the listener. Saxophonist Doug O’Conner bore down on the high notes of Rage and Possessed in an almost uncomfortably loud performance. In the middle movement Euphoria, Lisa Emenheiser demonstrated her mesmerizing prowess at the piano to deliver a surprisingly serene oasis of sound.
Alexandra Gardner’s The Way of Ideas followed with an engaging percolating run of notes that sounded and stopped. Playing this work were Paul Cigan on clarinet, Sarah Frisof on flute, Derek Powell on violin, and Rachel Young on cello.
Dark Ground by Tansy Davies is a solo percussion work and given the variety of percussive instruments displayed on stage for this concert, the Dresser expected an exciting and exotic cocktail of sound. The program notes from Ms. Davies indicate that her composition is rooted in the pedal bass drum which she describes as “a dead sound.” The Dresser suggests that maybe percussionist Lee Hinkle was hamstrung by the composer’s written comments.
Respiri by Juri Seo completed the program and was played by Daniel Foster on viola, Derke Powell on violin, Ying Fu on violin, and Rachel Young on cello. The work is dedicated to composer Jonathan Harvey who dying from a motor neuron disease during the time Seo was corresponding with him. He died in 2012. Respiri is a solemn but bright musical composition that puts the listener in touch with breathing and the firing neurons of the brain. Seo’s work was a satisfying conclusion to an overall enjoyable concert.
Kudos to Christopher Kendall for putting together a concert of depth, variety, and display of musical virtuosity.