Last night was the first performance of the final program of The Kennedy Center’s NEW MOVES: symphony + dance festival, a two-week celebration of dance, music, community, and passion. Maestro Thomas Wilkins took the driver’s seat, exploring classic works and new Kennedy Center/NSO commissions from American composers. Last night’s performance of Michael Daugherty’s Red Cape Tango from Metropolis Symphony, George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 4 (“Strands”), Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and John Adams’s Violin Concerto were musical and visual treats.
The evening started with a few words from the delightful conductor. He explained how the festival strives to present American music that suggests dance and endeavors to create community. With that, and a wave of his baton, the NSO started with Michael Daugherty’s “Red Cape Tango” from Metropolis Symphony, a Superman-inspired work.
The opening motif with melancholy brass echoes, sassy castanets, and sensual playing by concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef hinted at the thrill that was to build throughout the rest of the movement. The juxtaposition of the evocative tango and the Dies Irae tag is the perfect embodiment of Superman’s flirt with death and fight with Doomsday, the comic book villain who eventually kills Superman. Maestro did a fantastic job of building tension; when the entire orchestra came in with its lush playing, I had goose bumps. I especially enjoyed Daugherty’s expertly crafted textures that the NSO perfectly executed—castanets, trumpet mutes, plucky strings, crashing cymbals, and bass mimic the POW! BAM! ZING! straight from the comic books. I could hear Superman frantically clinging to life, fighting to the death. “Red Cape Tango” was a wild ride, and I was eager to stay on it. Superman’s kryptonite may just be the NSO.
Native Washingtonian George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 4 (“Strands”) was a stark contrast to Daugherty’s Red Cape Tango. Strands is imposing and dark, with deliciously crooked dissonance. The short, compact piece was striking and mesmerizing in its own melancholy way.
Aaron Copland’s iconic Appalachian Spring, on the other hand, was a pure and unbroken picture of rural America. Maestro and the NSO moved effortlessly between the tender and exciting moments, and the playful and introspective beats. I even saw a few NSO members smiling –and how could they not, playing such a multidimensional but also simple work? I’m particularly partial to the broad and majestic “Simple Gifts,” the only previously established folk tune in the entire suite.
The program ended with John Adams’ Violin Concerto, featuring Leila Josefowicz on the violin, complimented by original choreography by Jessica Lang, of Jessica Lang Dance. Ms. Josefowicz was incredible, and had an indescribably clear mastery of the piece. The NSO struck a solid balance in softly playing ascending scales under her as she tore through the music.
Jessica Lang’s beautiful and fluid choreography helped to make sense of the musical chaos. Her company dancers were completely in sync with each other, striking a number of interesting and perplexing tableaus. The simple but colorful lighting design by Dan Covey and airy costumes by H&E Cornejo’s Dancewear added to the stunning abstract sensory experience.
Running time is about 1 hour and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
NEW MOVES: symphony + dance: Thomas Wilkins, conductor; Jessica Lang Dance; with Leila Josefowicz, violin / From Adams to Copland played May 16 and 17, 2014, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts — 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC. For future Kennedy Center performance check their Events and Performances.