“Does any audience in the nation enjoy such excellent new music, presented with such talent and care, as do the subscribers of the 20th Century Consort?” wrote Mark Adamo in The Washington Post. Critics in the Nation’s Capital praise the Consort for “inspired performance”, describing programs as “larger than life,” “exhilarating,” “perfectly balanced” and “Consorting with greatness.”
As telling as the regular critical acclaim are the 20th Century Consort’s large and enthusiastic houses season after season at the Smithsonian Institution, “playing, as they always do, a program carefully thought out and performed with virtuosity.”
Founded in 1975 as the 20th Century Consort, the group became the resident ensemble for contemporary music at the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1978. In its annual series at the Hirshhorn, the Consort presented finely balanced concerts frequently related to the museum’s exhibitions, featuring music by living composers – often world premieres – along with 20th century classics. In 1990, the Consort was awarded the Smithsonian Institution’s Smithson Medal in honor of their long, successful association.
Under the direction of its founder and conductor, Christopher Kendall, the Consort’s artists include principal players from the National Symphony Orchestra, along with other prominent chamber musicians from Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.
In the first years of its Smithsonian residency, the Consort made its New York debut at Alice Tully Hall, performed at Spoleto USA, and mounted special large-scale concerts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In 1984 the Consort received an Emmy Award for its nation-wide PBS television broadcast of an all-Copland concert from the Library of Congress. The Consort has performed at the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards and the Washington Area Music Awards, at the Library of Congress and in staged performances of important 20th century music/theatre works. The Consort’s national appearances have included concerts and workshops at many colleges and universities. In the last several years the group has presented mini-residencies of readings and recording of student compositions at the University of Maryland School of Music. It has performed numerous concerts free to the public at the Washington National Cathedral, and in January, 2000, collaborated with the Folger Consort at the Cathedral in a critically acclaimed concert hailing the new millennium.
Along with the change of millennium, the Consort updated its name to the 21st Century Consort to reflect its forward progression in the field of music. In the 2006-2007 season, the Consort launched its partnership with the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). The Consort served as the New Music Ensemble-in-Residence at the Museum’s newly renovated Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium. The ensemble’s recordings can be heard on the Bridge, Innova, Delos, Nonesuch, Centaur, ASV, CRI and Smithsonian Collection labels.