by Maria Rodriguez
Ever seen a full-fledged symphony organized in an art gallery for a contemporary classical concert?
Thursday, April 29, the North Carolina Symphony pulled in prominent current composers, Caroline Shaw and Sarah Kirkland Snider, along with indie pop singers Shara Nova, Michael Stith, and Padma Newsome from the band The National, for a free concert at the Kogod Courtyard.
The Kogod, beautifully lit for all events hosted there, is found in the center of the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery. The galleries are found in the same building across from Gallery Place Metro stop.
It was a venue of a different sort, for a concert in a different vein. No stiff Beethoven here; the composers featured were all living. Gabriel Kahane, spotlighted at the top of the show, is a bluegrass rocking, Americana strumming, guitar-playing composer who also writes music for orchestra. Following his opening piece, Caroline Shaw, current composer extraordinaire (check her out, go to any chamber concert performance in town and half of them are guaranteed to be playing something by this inventive, and fresh composer), performed a piece she wrote with a chamber ensemble.
Shaw is a composer to follow. Not only was she the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, but her vocal compositions are a trip through the styles of the world — see her award-wining work Partita for 8 Singers for an exploration of throat singing and a dozen other a capella styles.
Shara Nova, Michael Stith, and Padma Newsome joined forces for the long piece of the evening by Sarah Kirkland Snider. Based on a series of illustrations and poems, the work was cinematic, soaring, and beautiful. Albeit long, an enjoyable jaunt into the large-scale symphonic music of now.
Classical music isn’t relegated to just traditional theaters or concert halls, but can be performed nearly anywhere. That’s the beauty of street musicians, taking the enhanced and perfected sound of studio music out into the open, for the public to enjoy directly. Similarly, classical musicians have decided to look for other places to perform their music, and they’ve found that depending where they perform, what they perform sounds a little bit different, and is received a little bit differently as well.