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Music at Dumbarton Oaks, Then and Now

Posted On March 09, 2022 | 14:13 pm | by kathys | Permalink
2022 is the 75th anniversary of the music program at Dumbarton Oaks

During World War II, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University’s research center in Washington DC, hosted researchers working on wartime technology, scholars identifying artworks to be protected during the war, and subsequently the landmark diplomatic meetings at which the Charter of the United Nations was initially drafted. With the creation of a public concert series in 1946, called at that time “Friends of Music,” Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University’s research center in Washington DC, shifted its attention from wartime concerns to the elaboration of the concept of a “Home of the Humanities” that its founders Robert and Mildred Bliss had envisioned. The Blisses had already hosted a variety of musical performances while the house was their home and, indeed, one of the most striking features of the house is the Music Room designed by Lawrence Grant White, with its elaborate painted ceiling designed by Armand Albert Rateau and its historic parquet floor. There, among the Medieval and Renaissance tapestries, sculptures, paintings, and furniture, the Blisses celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with a concert conducted by the legendary French musician Nadia Boulanger that featured the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, commissioned for the occasion. Just eight years later, concerts opened to public audiences, initiating a new phase in the life of the institution.

The alchemy of combining musical thinkers with world-class collections of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art, formal gardens, and scholarly research has been producing amazing results from Stravinsky to the present day. As the 75th season of concerts at Dumbarton Oaks draws to a close, the ensemble A Far Cry adds to and celebrates the tradition of remarkable moments in the Music Room with a concert of works closely connected to the storied institution. In its walls have echoed the premieres of new music by not only Stravinsky but also leading American composers, including Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, and of newer voices who have held residencies at Dumbarton Oaks, including Caroline Shaw and Jessie Montgomery. Inspired by Dumbarton Oaks’ legacy, A Far Cry presents the program Then and Now, exploring the early and recent musical fruits nurtured in the Bliss’s Home of the Humanities. Every work on the program is by a composer with a relationship to Dumbarton Oaks, both “then” and “now,” and features the world premiere of Woven in Earth and Sky by our 2021 Musician in Residence, David Crowell.