There’s a 20th-century tradition of composers finding audiences in museums and galleries. Washington’s museums present concerts in more conventional spaces than the art galleries where Steve Reich and Philip Glass found listeners in the 1960s, but they’re doing a lot to support new music in a city not always attuned to it. The Phillips Collection spotlights living European composers; the estimable Verge Ensemble and the 21st Century Consort are based at the Corcoran and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, respectively; the National Gallery of Art has a resident new music ensemble.
And the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, have a strong concert program with an East-meets-West emphasis. On Thursday, the Lark Quartet joined the koto player Yumi Kurosawa to offer the Washington premiere of “Genji,” a concerto for koto and string quartet that Daron Aric Hagen wrote for the group in 2010.
Encounters between traditional Asian music and Western music have come to occupy their own niche on the concert stage: Too frequent to be a gimmick, they retain an undeniable curiosity factor, particularly when they involve a composer who, like Hagen, had never written for the koto before. The instrument is a kind of dulcimer, a board laced with plucked strings tuned with pyramidal blocks, set at intervals under each string, that give the curving surface the look of a mountainscape diorama.