I talked in my last post about Steven Isserlis making a concert joyful, because he felt joy himself. Two nights after I heard him, on March 8, went to the WoCo Fest, a festival of music by women, and was so radiated with joy that I cancelled plans I had for the next night, and went back again.
What made WoCo Fest (presented by a new group, the Boulanger Initiative) so joyful? Well, we could start with the cause, music by women. Do something for a special reason, and maybe the event will be special.
Or maybe not! I’m sure we’ve all been to events in support of good causes, which, as events, maybe didn’t feel so great. Though music by women is exploding this concert season, and in a tide rising this fast, boats might feel like they’re levitating.
Which was pretty much the feeling both nights at WoCo Fest, Though the venue helped, along with the choice of musicians, and some unfettered joy shining from the co-founders of it all, Laura Colgate and Joy-Leilani Garbutt.
The venue! This was a winner. Reflecting I’d guess something Garbutt and Colgate had, a passion to be joyful. The venue was a converted church in DC called Blind Whino, with a compact little hiphop museum tucked inside it, and a performance space painted in wild colors and designs.
Someone involved with the festival told me, laughing at himself, how wrong he’d first thought it was to go to this space. Gotta be serious! Gotta go to the Kennedy Center!
But that’s not so, as he realized. What’s the point of upsetting norms and then reimposing them? Better to go to a place where the message seems to be that everybody ought to be joyful.
It helped, too, that there had been four performances in the afternoon and early evening. So the 7 PM concert I went to was a culmination, not a standalone, and thus could ride on waves already flowing, and thus be both relaxed and aroused.
Violinist Jennifer Koh playing works by Missy Mazzoli. That’s high-level stuff, for those keeping score, but what mattered more was that Koh and Mazzoli, who we know are good at what they do, just glowed. To each other, to us, and into the music, which also glowed, with Mazzoli taking part with electronics.
The second night — also after a day of varied events — we heard a group new to me, the Aizuri Quartet. Who won my heart immediately, in an arrangement of music by Hildegard von Bingen, when they played simple unison lines with such eloquence and focus.
In the music that followed, the cellist Karen Ouzounian stood out for me, terrific as the other players were. (Ariana Kim, Miho Saegusa, and Ayane Kozasa.) Ouzounian had the pulsing rhythm of a jazz or rock bassist, and, with her eyes on the others, seemed to breathe their unity, and then breathe it back out to them.
In the music they played, after Hildegard, there wasn’t one piece I wasn’t delighted to hear. The composers were Nina C. Young, Sky Mackay, Katherine Balch, Gabriella Smith, and Caroline Shaw. Shaw’s piece, no surprise, was a delight, just loaded with ideas, some of which seemed (almost with knowing little smiles) to elbow others out of the way, to jump into the center of the music.
And the Smith piece really wowed me. Starting with its Carrot Revolution name. (Which came, the quartet told us, from a remark Cézanne is made to make in a novel he appears in, that in his painting, a single carrot could make a revolution.)
The carrots in the piece…
…might be its musical ideas, which (with the greatest happiness) swerved and slid, as if they weren’t solid and didn’t stand on solid ground. And didn’t need to.
And yet they connected with each other, in ways I’m used to in more strictly classical pieces, pieces where carrots haven’t led a revolution. So playful, so alive, glowing with so much intelligence.
That was a joyful evening. The cause this all supported receded to the background. Only to jump out again: “All that music was by women!” (And played by them.)
And so the cause began to glow.
You can hear Carrot Revolution, with other fine music (including the Caroline Shaw piece) on the Aizuri Quartet’s debut album, Blueprinting.
Crazy that in the sweep of events, professional and personal, I’m posting only now about a festival I went to early in March. Should have done it earlier!