It’s been more than two years. But on Friday, March 18, Constellations Chamber Concerts returns to its home base in downtown Washington for Rise, a two-day, three-concert “explosion of musical energy” that will take audiences on a journey from the depths of human despair to lofty joy.
After two pandemic years filled with socioeconomic and political upheaval, the area itself has changed. The distinct protruding glass structure of the Christian Science church (no affiliation with the concert organizers) now faces what was renamed as Black Lives Matter Plaza, whose name is spelled out in bold yellow letters across two pedestrian blocks, after the 2020 protests against racially motivated violence roiled the U.S. capital.
The classical music series got its start in November 2019, shortly before COVID upended the performing arts scene. Constellations quickly adapted by presenting virtual concerts featuring trailblazing musicians in innovative programs ranging from early music to world premieres by contemporary artists, stealthily building a loyal online following in the meantime. Once COVID restrictions eased, Constellations also organized some outdoor and house concerts with limited seating.
True to its unique tradition, Constellations has given a theme to this week’s mini-festival. Rise “is inspired by our capacity to rise above the fray, tap into our inner strength, and conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles,” the group says. Thus, there will be works by Tania León, Kevin Puts, Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio and Quartet for the End of Time, which Olivier Messiaen composed and premiered, in front of other prisoners and guards, while held at a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.
“Everyone has their own relationship with it because it is this almost liturgical homage and it was written under such duress in a way, but with this almost ethereal aspiration,” Grammy-nominated clarinetist Mariam Adam said about the Messiaen quartet. “There’s gravity and termination of life, but also the strength of knowing what’s beyond that.” She was speaking in a Constellations podcast, one of several episodes of interviews the group presents as companions to the performances.
Performers at this week’s Constellations events include Adam, Ian Rosenbaum of Sandbox Percussion, flutist Sarah Frisof, violinist Grace Park, cellist Christine Lamprea, pianist-composer Daniel Pesca, and pianist Ellen Hwangbo, who doubles as Constellations artistic director. A portion of the proceeds will go toward humanitarian initiatives in war-torn Ukraine by chef José Andrès’s World Central Kitchen.
Saturday afternoon’s event presents the world premiere performance of Walk with me, my joy, a specially commissioned composition for flute, cello, mallet percussion, and piano by Pesca, who is also a member of the group’s programming committee. This unusual pairing of instruments unfurls phrases inspired by the Irish folksong Shule Agra, which Pesca heard in the form of a lullaby as a young child. “In this piece, I am contemplating those foundational experiences in life that enable us to rise up and walk through life,” Pesca shared with Constellations ahead of the concert. “The work lives in a world of memory, specifically the blurry mental images of our childhood that we carry with us forever.” A discussion with the composer and performers follows the performance.
Constellations Chamber Concerts presents Rise, a two-day, three-concert special event on March 18, 2022, at 7:30 pm and March 19, 2022, at 4 pm and 7:30 pm at 910 Black Matter Lives Plaza. Tickets are $40 for the Friday and Saturday evening performances and $20 for the Saturday afternoon show. Bundle tickets to all three performances are also available for a special discounted rate of $90. Purchase tickets and find more information here.
COVID Safety: Constellations Chamber Concerts requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all 2021–22 season events. Masks are strongly recommended.
Friday, March 18 at 7:30 pm
Eve Beglarian – I will not be sad in this world
Gabriel Fauré – Nocturne No. 6, Op. 63
Tania León – Alma
Kevin Puts – And Legions Will Rise
Maurice Ravel – Piano Trio in A minor
Saturday, March 19 at 4 pm
Daniel Pesca – Walk with me, my joy
Saturday, March 19 at 7:30 pm
Olivier Messiaen – O Sacrum Convivium
György Kurtág – selected works for piano four-hands
Olivier Messiaen – Quartet for the End of Time