The folks at Miller Theatre know how to fete composers. Their Composer Portraits series has given New York a number of memorable performances in recent seasons. They seem to have a special knack for celebrating the elder generation of American composers. Recent events include Carter’s What Next? on his ninety-ninth birthday, Babbitt’s complete string quartets in a single evening, and a ninetieth birthday celebration for Leon Kirchner. For many years a professor at Harvard University, Kirchner was actually born in New York. As such it seemed especially fitting that one of NYC’s premiere new music series did a solo show in his honor.
Kirchner taught some talented people – including Yo-Yo Ma (who commissioned a cello concerto from him) and John Adams; the latter was in the audience at the Miller concert. The onstage guests included longtime interpreter flutist Paula Robison. She performed a recently revised work – Flutings for Paula – with percussionist Ayano Katoaka; Robison also joined Kirchner for an onstage discussion after intermission. Gracious and genteel, the composer spoke eloquently about the recently departed George Perle, choosing to highlight the accomplishments of his contemporaries rather than toot his own horn.
Other performers included the violin-piano duo of Corey Cerovsek and Jeremy Denk, who performed two works with brilliant virtuosity and commendable rapport. The youthful and talented Claremont Trio gave a spot-on performance of Kirchner’s Schoenbergian 1954 Piano Trio No. 1 (the group has recently recorded the work for Tria Records). Bradley Lubman conducted the 1960 Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, Ten Winds, and Percussion. A big work for this modest-sized space, it rounded out the evening with a suitably festive example of Kirchner’s consummate craftsmanship.