Five Questions with the 21st Century Consort
October 19, 2010
On October 23 the 21st Century Consort performs its first concert of its season at American Art. The concert is inspired by the museum's Norman Rockwell exhibition, Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Christopher Kendall, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, spoke with External Affairs Chief Jo Ann Gillula about the upcoming performance of the ensemble which debuted in 1975 in American Art's own Lincoln Gallery. This season is entitled Music Meets Art, reflecting Kendall's programming based on American Art's exhibitions and permanent collection.
Eye Level: You are presenting a rather tongue-in-cheek concert on October 23 around the Norman Rockwell exhibition, calling it "as American as…" If we fill in the blank, do you mean apple pie or something not as sweet?
Christopher Kendall: You could add "motherhood" to the apple pie, of course. And although it is a bit of a challenge to come up with a program of contemporary music that enters wholeheartedly into Rockwell's values of love of country, personal honor, and value of family, I think we've got a program that honors Rockwell more than pokes fun at him. Maybe just a little satire thrown in for good measure.
EL: How do you select the combination of 20th and 21st century composers that you usually present in one concert?
CK: These programs are the result of long incubation, during which I am myself often mystified by the process. Being alert to new additions to the repertoire is of course required; certainly, the interests of the Consort's artists are a defining factor; I feel we have developed a kind of "understanding" with our audience—many of whom have been with us for a long time—who appreciate challenge and adventure with their musical beauty; I'm often looking for a balance of humor with the serious business. But over and over, it is the exhibitions and collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum that are the inspiration for our programs. This is a great benefit of our relationship with the museum.
EL: I know you perform in the Folger Consort in a repertoire of Renaissance music. Can you explain how you became so committed to more contemporary music?
CK: Having grown up with the mainstream classical repertoire all around, the emerging interest in early and contemporary music must have seemed part of the liberation of going away to college; both were "new," really, and I'm delighted to be able to keep exploring the newness of both into my dotage. There is also the imperative, for the health and survival of the form, to continually renew the repertoire.
EL: Many of the 21st Century Consort artists perform regularly with the National Symphony Orchestra and others perform internationally. How is that you can present such a distinguished roster of performers? What is your enticement for them?
CK: The Consort does not, on the whole, consist of new music specialists; this is a defining feature both of our programs and the quality and character of our performances. These are musicians, however, who appreciate the challenge and satisfaction of tackling new music, and doing so with colleagues likewise fully up to the task. Even if they don't especially take a shine to one piece or another (there is always a risk when you do new music), playing really difficult music at such a high level is a distinct pleasure. I think our performers, like our audiences, have developed a trust, over time, that the programs will be balanced, challenging, interesting, and consisting of good music (not always hallmarks of new music programs).
EL: We are excited about your programming around the American Art exhibitions and permanent collection this season. What would you like audiences to take away from our Music Meets Art season?
CK: Of course, if they take away the pleasure and edification of wonderful music wonderfully presented, that will be great. If they feel challenged, amused, moved and, hey, even transformed a little, I'm thrilled. If, beyond this, they are drawn to the sense of unity among the art forms often implicit in our programs, they'll be getting the essential idea of the series and residency at American Art.
The October 23 concert is preceded by a lecture at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available online or at the door the day of the performance; a post-performance wine and cheese reception is included.
- Christopher Kendall, 21st Century Consort, Music, Norman Rockwell, American Art,
Smithsonian American Art Museum
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