Beau Soir Ensemble’s light program draws a full audience on Super Bowl Sunday

Mon Feb 13, 2023 at 11:11 am

The Beau Soir Ensemble performed at The Alden in McLean Sunday afternoon.

One of the advantages of life in Washington is that musicians from the area’s leading orchestras also play in local chamber ensembles. One such group is the Beau Soir Ensemble, made up of violist Tsuna Sakamoto and flutist Carole Bean—both members of the National Symphony Orchestra—with harpist Michelle Myers Lundy. The trio performed an hour-long concert Sunday afternoon in The Alden, a small theater at McLean Community Center.

Composers have written expressly for the combination of flute, viola, and harp only since the early 20th century, and the music on this program all came from the last several decades. Ben Steinberg composed the oldest work, Three Songs for Flute, Viola and Harp, in 1981, based on the tunes of three Israeli songs. The Canadian composer, born into a Jewish family in Winnipeg in 1930, just passed away last Friday, February 10.

Each member of the trio introduced one of the pieces, but Sakamoto’s commentary proved a bit extended for this slender piece. Steinberg gave the leading role to the flute, and Bean’s silvery low tone stood well on its own in the unaccompanied opening to the second song, “Yemenite Chant.” Basically tonal in harmonic style, with some folksy modal touches, these compact songs pleased, especially the dance-like “How Beautiful upon the Mountains.”

The longest work on the concert was Los Mensajeros de Otoño (The Messengers of Autumn), commissioned in 2021 from Mexican composer Eduardo Angulo. (Myers Lundy thanked her husband, who arranged the commission as a birthday present for her.) The title messengers are the three musicians, whose themes in the first movement, as Myers Lundy explained, invited the listener on a walk through an autumnal forest.

All three musicians traded nostalgic themes, which yielded to a faster middle section of lightly pulsating notes. Few dissonances or extended techniques intruded into Angulo’s fairly conventional language, aside from some flutter-tonguing in the flute. The second movement, “Strut,” proved more of a gentle amble, with some jazz-tinged melodic turns reminiscent of film scores or popular ballads. The third movement’s descending motifs evoked the fall of soft rain, making for the most playful part of a half-hour of easy listening.

The Chasing Tale, composed in 2021 by Martyn Adams, offered more diversion. Adams, a Brighton-based composer who is also a percussionist, gave rhythmic, unpitched bits to all three musicians: raps on the harp’s soundboard, taps on the viola with the frog of the bow, and staccato huffing on the flute. The multi-metric irregularity of the first movement seemed related to the image the composer said he had in mind, of a dog chasing its tail.

The trio returned to the music of Angulo with the final piece, Bacanal, adapted in 2007 from the third movement of Angulo’s Viola Concerto. At first, this bacchanalia seemed rather mild-mannered, like much of this program, but the tempo cranked up with a faster section playing on the metric differences between 3/4 and 6/8. All three musicians played with technical assurance, yielding to one another as their lines came to the fore, especially Bean (the NSO’s piccolo player), whose high notes pierced the air with impressive clarity.

More percussive effects were in store in this piece, and not only more of Lundy rhythmically striking the wood part of the harp. At a few climactic moments, Sakamoto stomped on an unspecified percussion instrument on the floor near her stand, which gave a jingling ring like a tambourine or sleigh bell. This eclectic touch especially delighted the younger members of the audience, who watched carefully for it to happen.

That broad appeal was the principal virtue of this concert, the community engagement aimed at listeners who may be hearing classical music live for the first time. The Alden is not a large venue, but with inexpensive tickets, it was filled with an audience representing a broad range of ages. As many classical music presenters struggle with bringing audiences back into their halls after the pandemic lockdowns, it was an encouraging sign.

Margarita Loukachkina and Nikita Borisevich perform music for piano and violin 2 p.m. April 16.

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