March 2017: Music at the National Gallery of Art

Long-running programs of free concerts featuring classical and traditional regional music, all open to the general public at America’s art museum.

The Kruger Brothers and Kontras Quartet. Photo by Fanjoy Labrenz, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art website.

WASHINGTON, February 26, 2017 – It may come as a surprise to many Washingtonians, but the National Gallery of Art has long been home to one of the best deals ever for those who love classical and traditional regional and bluegrass music performed by some of the world’s most notable artists.

Best deals? How about absolutely free concerts, open to the general public, that feature some of the finest American and international singers and musicians? The only price you’ll pay is time. These events are generally so popular that you’ll generally have to get there a bit early to assure yourself of a seat.

Currently ongoing are the National Gallery of Arts’ long running series of Sunday afternoon concerts in the East Garden Court of the Gallery’s West Building and the “Washingtonians of Wednesdays” series—sponsored by the Billy Rose Foundation—which features an eclectic selection of Wednesday slightly-after-noon programs that will appeal to locals and tourists alike.

The Gallery’s March selection of programs is particularly adventurous, perhaps most notably emphasized by its March 19 fusion program, featuring Jens Kruger’s “Appalachian Concerto,” an ensemble performance in which the Kruger Brothers join with the Kontras Quartet.

Here’s the full March schedule for the regular East Garden Court concerts as well as “Washingtonians on Wednesdays.”

East Garden Court concerts. Presented Sundays in the West Building’s East Garden Court Sunday afternoons at 3:30 p.m.

March 5, 2017. Korean pianist Ji. We reviewed this rather flamboyant but seriously talented young pianist (formerly known as Ji-Yong) for the Washington Times when he performed in recital back in December, 2013 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater as a Young Concert Artists winner. Now he’s the star of a surpassingly odd Google Android commercial entitled “Monotune.”

He’s back in DC in the Gallery’s East Garden Court for solo program with music TBA. Meanwhile, as you wait for the date, you may want to play the YouTube video (below) of that genuinely strange “Monotune” commercial. Clocking in at a minute and 14 seconds, it’s certainly worth your time.

March 12, 2017. Dutch vocal ensemble Cappella Pratensis commemorates the 500th anniversary of Hieronymus Bosch’s death in a program entitled “Triptych: the Musical world of Hieronymus Bosch. The Gallery doesn’t list this program’s details, but the group’s March 10 Bosch concert at Duke University does list the following selections:

  • Anonymous chant/polyphony: Introit: Salva Sancta Parens
  • Pierre de la Rue: “Kyrie” and “Gloria” from Missa Cum Jocunditate
  • Chant: Gradual: Benedicta et Venerabilis Es
  • Chant: Alleluia: Ave Maria
  • Chant/Anon. early 16th century: Sequence: Verbum bonum et suave 
  • Pierre de la Rue: “Credo” from Missa Cum Jocunditate
  • Anon.: Motet: Sub Tuum Presidium
  • Chant: Prefatio
  • Pierre de la Rue: “Sanctus” from Missa Cum Jocunditate
  • Anon: Elevation Motet: O Salutaris Hostia
  • Chant: Pater noster
  • Pierre de la Rue: “Agnus Dei” from Missa Cum Jocunditate
  • Chant: Communion: Beata Viscera
  • Pierre de la Rue: Motet: Gaude Virgo

March 19, 2017. Kruger Brothers and the Kontras Quartet present the “Appalachian Concerto,” composed by Jens Kruger. The Kruger Brothers, are, as Monty Python once liked to say, “something completely different.” The trio consists of brothers Jens Kruger on banjo, Uwe Kruger on guitar and musical pal Joel Landsberg on bass.

All three musicians are also vocalists, with brother Uwe singing lead. But what’s different here is that this All-American bluegrass and folk music trio actually hails from Switzerland—although they’ve established a home base in North Carolina. Brother Jens, BTW, has been hailed by some as the “Bach of the banjo.”

Joined by the Kontras Quartet in this concert, they’ll be performing Jens Kruger’s “Appalachian Concerto” for banjo, bass, guitar and string quartet. Composed as a true classical concerto, it’s meant to reflect the cultural history and musical traditions of America’s Appalachian mountain regions.

We discovered a YouTube video of the concerto and offer it here. Clocking in at roughly 35 minutes (including the opening cavalcade of sponsors), it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before and it will certainly sound even better in live performance. The actual introductory narrative and musical program start at approximately the 1 minute mark.

March 26, 2017. The Parker Quartet will present an dramatic classical program featuring:

  • Felix Mendelssohn: Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 12;
  • Augusta Read Thomas: Helix Spirals; and
  • Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet no. 3

Washingtonians on Wednesdays, programs sponsored by the Billy Rose Foundation. Performances begin on Wednesday afternoons at 12:10 p.m. in various locations listed below.

March 1, 2017. The Heart of a Woman. This program is described as a musical journey through music with soprano Carmen Balthrop and pianist José Cáceres. Location: West Building, West Garden Court.

March 8, 2017. Alexander Wu, pianist and the Serendip Trio present a special program entitled “Return to Camelot: Music from the Kennedy White House Concerts 1961—1963.” Music by Felix Mendelssohn, Aaron Copeland, Dave Brubeck, Pablo Casals, and others.

According to the Gallery’s website, “The musical reputation that the Kennedy White House enjoyed was due primarily to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, national hostess and cultural leader. Through their leadership and engaging style, the Kennedys led the way in encouraging Americans to explore and enjoy music in its many forms.” Location: West Building, East Garden Court.

March 15, 2017. Musical ensemble Inscape presents music by Julia Adolphe, Rebecca Clarke, Jennifer Higdon, and Joan Tower. This unusual program is obviously focused on women composers, among whom contemporary American composer Jennifer Higdon is perhaps the best known in 2017.

But worthy of note, we personally regard the nearly forgotten 20th century British composer Rebecca Clark as a shamefully overlooked genius. Her utterly mind-blowing Sonata for Viola—now regarded as a true virtuoso classic—is, in our mind, one of the best instrumental sonatas ever. Inscape’s March 15 program is currently TBA. Location: West Building Lecture Hall.

March 22, 2017. Three by Three: The Music of Amy Beach. Notes the Gallery’s website, “Continuing with a celebration of women in the arts, women of the National Symphony Orchestra—Rachel Young, cello; Alexandra Osborne, violin; and Lisa Emenheiser, piano—perform three works by composer Amy Beach: Cello Five Pieces, Violin Sonata, and Piano Trio.” The music of pioneering Amy Beach, another neglected but robustly skilled American composer still surprises audiences today. While the March 22 is currently TBA, it’s well worth taking a chance on. Location: West Building, East Garden Court.

March 29, 2017. Soprano Arianna Zukerman. Program and accompanist TBA. Location: West Building, East Garden Court.

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