Sunday, January 12, 2014

The North/South Chamber Orchestra - Gentile, Maican, Zelenaia & Lifchitz - 01/12/14

Conductor: Max Lifchitz
Ada Gentile: Ho scritto una canzone
Tudor Dominik Maican: Sinfonietta No 2
Margarita Zelena: Lamentation - Claudia Schaer: Violin
Max Lifchitz: Expressions

As 2014 is slowly getting underway and winter is dragging on, I was in fact pretty happy not to have to go out in the evening this week as the city was grappling with the merciless "polar vortex". Today the temporary sub-zero temperatures, which were quickly followed by unusual warm weather and torrential rains, are already forgotten, and life is more or less back to normal, which essentially means some live music was scheduled to brighten up an otherwise still rather gloomy winter Sunday.
This afternoon's contemporary chamber music concert actually constituted an exciting leap of faith as I was not familiar with The North/South Chamber Orchestra, the Christ & St Stephen's Church, the various composers or the program's works. But the venue is in my neighborhood and the concert was free, so why not go check out what was going on there in the company of my intrepid friend Ruth?

Every time I go to a contemporary music performance and do not know the œuvre of the composers on the program, I always brace myself, just in case. Today, however, this precaution turned out to be completely unnecessary as the music was filling up the understated, lovely little Episcopal church. The North/South Chamber Orchestra may be refreshingly casual in its look, but there was nothing even remotely nonchalant in their playing, and nothing off-putting in what they were playing either. The first piece, "Ho scritto una canzone" by Italian composer Ada Gentile, could not have been more welcoming, all pretty melodies and soothing mood, with a heart-on-your-sleeve lyricism that would have made Tchaikovsky proud.
Then we moved on to the first-ever performance of "Sinfonietta", inspired by two Greek Orthodox prayers for children, was written especially for the orchestra by Tudor Dominik Maican, a former child prodigy from the Washington, DC area, who was born in Germany to Romanian parents. Besides being bombarded with prizes and commissions for the past few years, the 24-year-old is currently busy overseeing the rehearsals of his first opera in Romania, so he was not able to be with us to introduce this new work of his. We easily got into it nonetheless. The first movement's glowing strings beautifully described the unadulterated bliss found in heaven, and the second movement conjured up a highly rhythmical, care-free dance that ended on a triumphant chord. Nothing ground-breaking, but an engaging, solid crowd-pleaser.
Russian composer Margarita Zelenaia, on the other hand, had made it to the concert and graciously introduced her "Lamentation", which was having its US premiere this afternoon, as being inspired by the aria "Dido's Lament" from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and which she had dedicated to the memory of Russian writer Chingiz Aiitmatov. That's when we switched from the generally uplifting mood of the first part of the concert to an on-going storm of urgency, turbulences, anguish, calm and instability. The solo violin was vibrantly played by Claudia Schaer while the cellos and bass added some unsettling dark shadows to the whole piece.
The last number on the program, "Expressions", was by no other that The North/South Chamber Orchestra's founder and conductor, Mexican composer, conductor and pianist Max Lifchitz. The four movements succeeded one another fast and lean, four drastically distinct parts of a harmonious whole. It all started with the Expressivo's melodic power, continued with the Scherzo's jagged aggressiveness, went on with the Dramatico con calore's convoluted passion, and ended with the Dolce's newly found serenity. This concluded our short but delightful concert with a wide array of colorful sounds and heart-felt emotions, and helped us revive our spirits to finish off the weekend.

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