Golijov: Last Round
Sibelius: Canzonetta Op. 62a for String Orchestra
Janacek: String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer Sonata" arranged for String Orchestra
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48
Just because we found ourselves under a serious blanket of snow on the first day of spring did not mean that we were going to let Mother Nature completely ruin the weekend. So it was on a beautiful, sunny, but still unusually cold Sunday afternoon that I met my friend Paula at the endearingly old-fashioned Town Hall to check out the democratically run and self-conducted East Coast Chamber Orchestra ‒ or ECCO ‒ in an appealing program featuring Golijov, Sibelius, Janacek and Tchaikovsky as part of the indefatigable Peoples' Symphony Concert's Festival Series. Coming from well-established orchestras and ensembles all over the country, ECCO's members periodically meet to socialize and make beautiful music together... or so I had heard. Now the time had finally come to find out for myself.
As soon as they appeared onstage, it became clear that the expected 18 string players had brought two additional members-to-be in tow, or rather in bellies, as two of the musicians were visibly pregnant under their flowing dresses. That, however, did not keep them from standing up in heels with the rest of the orchestra to assertively kick start the performance with Osvaldo Golijov's irresistibly Argentinean "Last Round". Although references to Piazzolla were all but inevitable, "Last Round" proudly stood on its own, endlessly oozing tango's infectious sensuality while brilliantly evoking a combative dance that did not want to end.
After the sizzling hot opening from the South, the atmosphere cooled off a bit with a melancholic, borderline mystical, miniature piece from the North. Wrapped in mournful elegance, Sibelius' Canzonetta Op. 62a got a sensitive and respectful treatment by ECCO's musicians, who played it with the same deep sense of musicality as they did the Golijov's spontaneously danceable work.
Inspired by Tolstoy's dramatic novella "The Kreutzer Sonata", which itself had been inspired by Beethoven's popular work, Janacek's "The Kreutzer Sonata" was originally written as a string quartet, and later arranged for a string orchestra. The result yesterday was a riveting psychological journey filled with on-going conflicts, brief moments of tenderness and raging outbursts of jealousy, the use of a larger, tightly unified ensemble auspiciously allowing for more texture and complexity.
After intermission, we got to shamelessly indulge in what Paula has rightly deemed "Tchaikovsky's most perfect composition" with his "Serenade for Strings". From the intensely Romantic introduction that mercilessly tugged at the audience's happily consenting heartstrings to the delicately graceful Valse, the achingly poignant Élégie and the vibrantly colored Finale, which swiftly took us back to the emotionally stirring introduction, the performance was technically impeccable, and, most importantly, full of unrestrained love for life and music.
The sheer exuberance of the serenade was gently toned down by the somberly beautiful Bach Chorale, which the orchestra played as an encore and dedicated to past and new lives. As the last note was still hanging in the air, a cell phone rang, which abruptly brought us back to reality and de facto concluded the concert.