Sunday, May 8, 2011

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - Kernis, Wagner, Maxwell Davies, Theofanidis, Hartke & Moravec - 05/06/11

Aaron Jay Kernis: Concerto with Echoes (inspired by “Brandenburg” No 6)
Melinda Wagner: Little Moonhead: Three Tributaries (inspired by “Brandenburg” No 4)
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: Sea Orpheus (inspired by “Brandenburg” No 5)
Christopher Theofanidis: Muse (inspired by “Brandenburg” No 3)
Stephen Hartke: A Brandenburg Autumn (inspired by “Brandenburg” No 1)
Paul Moravec: Brandenburg Gate (inspired by “Brandenburg” No 2)

Spring is finally in the air in the Big Apple, and Carnegie Hall has decided to celebrate it with a brand new concert series called, appropriately enough: "Spring for Music" (Get it?). And to kick off this brand new adventure, how about presenting the world première of six pieces written by six contemporary composers, each inspired by one of Bach’s timeless "Brandenburg Concertos"? And to make the offering even more enticing, these "New Brandenburgs" would be played by New York’s very own famously leader-less and unequivocally highly regarded Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. With all those ingredients in place, not to mention an introduction by distinguished actor David Hyde Pierce, the evening promised a healthy blend of the eternal classicism and refreshing modernity.

Kernis’ Concerto with Echoes started slow, but with an intensity that only grew stronger before exploding with virtuosic force. This was, however, counter-balanced by a lovely middle movement whose thoughtfulness carried over that to the very end of the piece, which concluded with a quiet whisper.
Inspired by the meaning of the German word "Bach", Wagner’s Little Moonhead: Three Tributaries emphasized the free-flowing of a stream, reproducing the three tributaries in the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern. The middle movement, "Moon Ache", had a particularly beautiful, ethereal feel to it while the last one, "Fiddlehead", evoked the edible frond of an unfurled fern plant, looking just like the scroll of a violin, with plenty of whimsical flair.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ Sea Orpheus, taking inspiration from a poem by George Mackay Brown and based on a Gregorian chant, opened with the soulful notes of a cello before proceeding to more discombobulated sounds. Add to that the virtuoso turn of a high-flying pianist and you have an engaging, constantly transformative work.
The first half of the program concluded to polite, appreciative but not totally won over applause, which probably explains why there were quite a few more empty seats after intermission. And it was the departed’s loss because Theofanidis’ Muse quickly turned out to be the kind of number that instantaneously gets a hold on you and just does not let you go. After vainly looking for Bach's musical influence in the previous three pieces, I could finally connect with the German composer’s classical daintiness in the dynamic first movement, before moving on to an unabashedly pretty middle movement and finally ending this all-around winner with a powerful Gregorian chant-inspired last movement. During the performance of that particular work the string players were all standing up, and quite a few audience members did the same during the loudest ovation of the evening.
Hartke came up with A Brandenburg Autumn when residing near the palace where the dedicated of the Brandenburg Concerto No 1 lived. The opening gently brought to mind the peacefulness of the Wannsee, the lake bordering western Berlin and Postdam, with delicate strings, which were later joined by an harpsichord and some wind instruments. The "Scherzo: Colloquy" was an on-going animated discussion while the "Sarabande: Palaces" allowed for a leisurely stroll among the many stunning buildings of the area. It all ended in pompous style with "Réjouissance: Hornpipe" and its festive dance.
Moravec’s Brandenburg Gate is, of course, associated with the actual monument in Berlin. Moreover, the BACH motive, coming from the German musical notation B-flat, A, C, H-natural, which Bach himself occasionally used, served as a foundation for the exercise. The three movements, played without interruption, concluded the series, and the concert, on an energetic, joyful note, before we got a chance to salute the six composers, who all came up on the stage for a final bow.

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