Kennedy Center Celebrates Contemporary Composers With Crosscurrents May 1-10

Classic Arts Features   Kennedy Center Celebrates Contemporary Composers With Crosscurrents May 1-10
The National Symphony Orchestra and the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts will present 17 orchestral, chamber orchestra, and chamber music events celebrating 15 of today's foremost living composers.

The programs are curated by British composer and conductor Oliver Knussen in collaboration with Fortas Artistic Director Joseph Kalichstein. The Millennium Stage also presents nine different free performances.

Continuing in the tradition of the great 19th and 20th-century pianist/composers, Lera Auerbach is one of the most widely performed composers of the new generation. Originally from Russia and now in her 30s, her creative output knows no boundaries: her extremely passionate and moving music ranges from symphonies and operas to chamber works and ballet. At The Juilliard School, she studied piano with Joseph Kalichstein. She is also a gifted writer of poetry and novels, and she has already received Russia's highest recognition for a poet, the Pushkin Prize. Performing a program of her works in the Family Theater on May 1, Auerbach is joined by two other rising stars in the music world. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein has been praised by the New York Times for playing with "an ecstasy and a generosity that lift performance into the realm of pure happiness": while mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is generating overwhelming buzz after winning First Prize at the 2007 Young Concert Artists International Auditions.

Composer Bruce Adolphe's chamber music, symphonies, film scores, and song cycles have been performed all over the world, and commissioned by the likes of Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, the Beaux Arts Trio, and the National Symphony Orchestra. The Fortas series showcases a selection of Adolphe's chamber works in a concert by some of today's most exciting musicians, including soprano Lauren Skuce, violist Misha Amory, flutist Tara-Helen O'Connor, oboist Stephen Taylor, and the Kennedy Center debut of the Apollo Trio. On the May 2 program in the Family Theater is a duet for violin and piano, a D.C. premiere for soprano and piano trio, and a sextet inspired by the projected paintings of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and other abstract masters.

Celebrating her 70th birthday in 2008, Joan Tower's remarkable career spans more than five decades. Sophisticated and technically demanding: yet extremely approachable: her music is often personally inspired, from memories of her father to her upbringing in South America. For her Fortas spotlight program on May 4 in the Family Theater, Tower on piano is joined first by her frequent collaborators the Muir Quartet, hailed by the New York Times as having "a sound, interpretive depth, and polish to rival the best in the world." In various combinations, they'll perform the piano trio Big Sky, the string quartets Night Fields and Incandescent, and Simply Purple for solo viola, followed by all five musicians in the Dumbarton Quintet. The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio concludes the evening with For Daniel, written for the trio in 2004 and dedicated to Tower's late nephew.

For more than 30 years, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio has been the reigning exemplar for the piano trio, famed for its expressiveness and warmth. The Miami String Quartet has quickly established itself as one of the most respected quartets in America. These two world-renowned ensembles sold out the Terrace Theater in December 2007, and now they join forces again. May 5 in the Terrace Theater, their program begins with Boccherini's Cello Quintet in E major: featuring the composer's most famous melody, the minuet: and concludes with Dvorˇ šk's Piano Quintet in A major, a masterwork of the Romantic era. In between, all seven musicians perform the D.C. premiere of a new piano septet written for them by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music. Celebrating her 70th birthday in 2009, Zwilich's septet is the first-ever work written for this combination of instruments.

An integral part of British musical life for more than 40 years, The Nash Ensemble of London boasts an eclectic repertoire, from the classics to the contemporary to lesser-known gems for harp and wind instruments. British composer and conductor Oliver Knussen has selected the Nash's program for the May 6 concert in the Terrace Theater, to be led by acclaimed British conductor Lionel Friend and featuring the talents of soprano Valdine Anderson. Three of the works are Nash commissions: Elliott Carter's Mosaic is written for harp and seven other instruments, Colin Matthews's The Island is set to text by Rainer Maria Rilke, and Nicholas Maw's Ghost Dances, subtitled "An Imaginary Ballet for Five Players," rhythmically and melodically distorts 10 dances. Also on the program: George Benjamin's Piano Figures is a challenging series of 10 pieces about children, Harrison Birtwistle's Crowd is a recent work for solo harp, while Knussen's own Songs Without Voices is an octet, and one of the composer's most popular chamber works.

Making his NSO debut, Oliver Knussen leads the National Symphony Orchestra in concerts May 7 _9. One of Britain's most respected musical figures, he's noted not only for his own compositions, but also for his passionate commitment to the performance and interpretation of the music of colleagues. Hailed as "a world-class player" by London's The Observer, violinist Leila Josefowicz performs Knussen's Violin Concerto in a program including works by Augusta Read Thomas, Julian Anderson, and Gunther Schuller.

Oliver Knussen and Brad Lubman conduct a chamber ensemble of NSO musicians on May 10 in the Terrace Theater. The Crosscurrents program features Knussen's Requiem: Songs for Sue with soprano Elizabeth Keusch, as well as works by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Sean Shepherd, Augusta Read Thomas, and Julian Anderson.

For tickets and full program information visit Kennedy Center.

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