Escher String Quartet Plays Zemlinsky, Janacek, & Mendelssohn at the Phillips

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(Photo by Sophie Zhai)

Escher String Quartet, Phillips Collection, December 20, 2015

Leoš Janáček, String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata”
 
Felix Mendelssohn, String Quartet Op. 44, No. 2 in E minor
 
Alexander Zemlinsky, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 15

On Sunday at the Phillips Collection, the Escher String Quartet offered a bracing antidote to the season of ubiquitous “Messiahs” and treacly “Nutcrackers.” Bookending its program with the violent psychodrama of works by Leos Janacek and Alexander Zemlinsky, the New York-based ensemble presented a highly charged and emotionally wrenching afternoon of chamber music.

Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, which opened the concert, established the Escher’s fundamental approach to the program: aggressive attacks, a vivid declamatory style and urgent drama. Composed in 1923, the quartet was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata,” in which marital jealousy erupts in murderous rage. The Escher members — violinists Adam Barnett-Hart and Aaron Boyd, violist Pierre Lapointe and cellist Brook Speltz — made the most out of the music’s narrative contrasts in a tense, expressionistic performance…

Read the full review here (Washington Post, December 21, 2015)

National Symphony’s Misguided Attempt to Get Hip

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Ben Folds (Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

DECLASSIFIED: In Motion

Ben Folds with the National Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Hicks (conductor), Kennedy Center Concert Hall, December 4, 2015

John Adams, The Chairman Dances

Paul Creston, Dance Overture for orchestra, Op. 62

Mason Bates, Mothership

Ben Folds, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2014)

WASHINGTON, D.C.–“Outreach” is one of the buzzwords of the contemporary American orchestra, as it attempts to attract new audiences in the face of declining attendance and an aging demographic. Intent upon seeking out the younger crowd, the National Symphony Orchestra inaugurated a new late-night Friday concert series on December 4 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. While well intentioned, it proved a profoundly misguided first installment, betraying an insecurity about the enduring value of classical music and a fundamental misunderstanding of the audience it was trying to reach.

Read the full review here (Musical America, paywalled)

Kristian Bezuidenhout Plays Mozart and C.P.E. Bach in a Dazzling Fortepiano Recital

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Photo by Marco Borggreve

For Kristian Bezuidenhout, the art of historically informed performance is no dry, academic exercise but a bold act of musical imagination. In an illuminating recital at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon, the South African fortepiano specialist brought interpretive daring, expressive freedom and technical resourcefulness to a restless and fascinating exploration of the music of Mozart and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

The fortepiano offers musicmaking on an intimate scale. It has a lighter, mellower and more transparent sound than a modern Steinway, with more dramatic contrasts in color between registers. Playing a modern replica of an 1800 fortepiano by Johann Schantz, Bezuidenhout opened up a kaleidoscopic sound world, with seemingly endless variations of color, articulation and phrasing. His masterly command of the expressive possibilities of the instrument was allied with imaginative interpretive liberties and an operatic sense of timing and drama…

Read full review here (Washington Post, November 30, 2015)