Spring 2020 Concerts from the Library of Congress

The following is a guest post by Anne McLean of the Music Division

An exciting run of 45+ events is ahead for the spring season of Concerts from the Library of Congress, kicked off by back-to-back performances by two stellar ensembles rarely sighted in the U.S. Superlative performances are expected from our season-openers, concerts that begin a remarkable lineup of artists and events and set a brisk pace for exceptional musical experiences in the coming months. Note to potential concertgoers: these and many of the Library’s Spring 2020 concerts are sold out, but please do check online for the possibility of returned tickets. And we strongly encourage you to get a RUSH space available pass at the door for any of our sold-out events.

Dunedin Consort

On January 30, harpsichordist and organist John Butt leads Scotland’s brilliant Dunedin Consort in an all-Bach evening with soprano Meg Bragle, offering two cantatas and two Brandenburg concertos, plus the Orchestral Suite in B minor, BWV 1067.  This noted scholar of early music is a significant figure in the world of historically informed performance practice; he is an authority on articulation and interpretation, admired for his impressive performances and immaculate recordings of the music of J.S. Bach and his contemporaries. With a foundation of exacting scholarship, the Dunedin artists bring a stunningly natural, spontaneous and buoyant feeling to their concerts. This indefinable style has been described as “the sheer sense of joy” (The Times, London); it has earned wide recognition and many awards, including, most recently, Gramophone magazine Editor’s Choice award in October 2019, for their recording of G.F. Handel’s oratorio Samson.

Asko | Schönberg, photo: Ada Nieuwendijk

Next up on January 31 and February 1 are two concerts by Amsterdam’s Asko | Schönberg, conducted by Olivier Cuendet. Their programs showcase a group that has been an impressive force in contemporary music for half a century, notable for interpretations informed by deep relationships with composers—collaborations with modern masters like György Ligeti, Louis Andriessen, György Kurtág, Sofia Gubaidulina, John Cage and many others. Dutch pianist, composer and conductor Reinbert de Leeuw, himself a modern master, is the founder and music director. De Leeuw’s vast knowledge of contemporary repertoire and a powerful curiosity about the compositional process have led the group into pathbreaking and often very in-depth explorations. “I got fascinated by working out how people actually compose, and that’s a good approach….” de Leeuw has said. “How did that guy do this?. ..the fascinating thing is working out why composers have written things the way they have.” Over the decades, de Leeuw’s fascination has attracted two generations of expert interpreters of the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Both Library concerts highlight the players’  prodigious musicianship and technical skill. Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto, written for an ensemble of thirteen virtuosic players, requires  a formidable level of instrumental mastery. Kurtág’s …concertante… op. 42, conceived to feature Asko | Schönberg’s violinist Hiromi Kikuchi and violist Ken Hakii,  has now been “distilled” in a compelling new arrangement for chamber orchestra by Olivier Cuendet that will be premiered on the Coolidge stage.

Two current Asko | Schönberg mini-series present “The Enigmatic Music of Claude Vivier,” and “Vivier, A Musical Continent.” At the Library, Katrin Baerts sings in an imaginary language—a special Vivier interest—in his  Bouchara, which suggests a medievalist tone through modal writing and harmonic structure; listeners will hear an intriguing use of overtones and “found sound” effects. Violinist Joseph Puglia is the soloist in White Eagle by Martijn Padding, head of the Composition Department at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague; the work is inspired by a bird with “beautiful flight and a trenchant, long drawn-out call, ending up in a glissando.” Argentine-German composer Mauricio Kagel’s brilliant, quirky and inventive  Die Stücke der Windrose paints cultures and constellations; these “pièces de salon”–the composer’s term–illustrate points of the compass, with clarinet, piano, harmonium, two violins, viola, cello and double bass accompanied by a dense thicket of percussion instruments.

Asko | Schönberg’s mission in “creating the repertoire of the future”  is one shared by the Library of Congress, making the ensemble’s runout from Amsterdam for this special project a meaningful and rewarding one for both institutions.  Both have a commitment to commissioning and presenting works of many compositional styles and supporting young and emerging composers. Just a few of the composers currently working with  Asko | Schönberg are  Kate Moore, Rasa Namavar and Oscar Bettison, Chair of the Composition Department at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, who is working on a new chamber opera for the ensemble for the 2020-21 season. At the Library, contemporary music is particularly strong in upcoming LC concerts, with a new Library of Congress Just Fund commission from Suzanne Farrin and the ICE Ensemble, the world premiere of Aida Shirazi’s Sāniyā, recent pieces by Nabil Benabdeljalil and Zad Moultaka on a recital by pianist Marouan Benabdallah, a pair of concerts by the Flux Quartet and an evening of multi-media works, “Field Recordings,” with the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

The Asko | Schönberg concerts are presented under the auspices of the Library’s Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund in the Library of Congress,  through generous support from the Performing Arts Fund NL, Dutch Culture USA and the Netherland-America Foundation, as well as the Swiss Arts Council’s Pro Helvetia foundation.

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