Monday, March 30, 2015

New York Classical Players - Holst, Hallman, Diamond & Elgar - 03/28/15

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Holst: St. Paul's Suite
Hallman: Rhapsody Concerto for Violin and Piano with Strings ‒ Donald & Vivian Weilerstein
Diamond: Rounds for String Orchestra
Elgar: Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op. 47

Another beautiful, sunny and unusually March Sunday afternoon, another inspirational concert by a tremendously talented string chamber orchestra. There should be more weekends like this. So there I was yesterday afternoon, back in the Upper East Side's Church of the Heavenly Rest with two like-minded friends of mine for another open to all and free for all performance of an appealing program by the New York Classical Players.
And appealing it was. Book-ended by two renowned English composers, Holst and Elgar, were the world premiere of Joseph Hallman's "Rhapsody Concerto for Violin and Piano with Strings", which was commissioned by the NYCP and The Weilerstein Duo, followed by David Diamond's popular "Rounds for String Orchestra". Plenty of opportunities for the little orchestra that can to put their glorious strings to good use.

Written as a thank you note to the St. Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith for letting him use their large soundproof studio, Gustav Holst's "St. Paul's Suite" started the concert with an assertively lively... jig! And why not? The fact is, the whole work features many attractive melodies, which the musicians kept on expertly unfurling with much sparkling energy under Dongmin Kim's insightful baton.
The brand new piece on the program, Joseph Hallman's "Rhapsody Concerto for Violin and Piano with Strings", was composed with Donald and Vivian Weilerstein in mind, a power couple who has not only produced trail-blazing cellist Alisa Weilerstein, but has also taught some of the members of the orchestra. Needless to say, the string music world is forever in their debt. The concerto had a little bit of everything for everyone, including some lyrical lushness, fast-paced passages, as well as solo cadenzas for the violin and the piano, because when you have the Weilerstein Duo perform your composition, you make sure to showcase their talent. Mission accomplished.
The story goes that Dimitri Mitropoulos, who was the commissioner and conductor of David Diamond's "Rounds for String Orchestra", asked the composer for a "happy work". Whether this is an apocryphal account or not, yesterday afternoon the result was undeniably cheerful, agreeable and light-hearted. The perfect breath of fresh air on this sunny Sunday.
There's nothing in the world that my friend Ruth enjoys more than a healthy dose of premium schmaltz when it comes to music, and she finally got her fill of it with the last piece on the program, Edward Elgar's "Introduction and Allegro for Strings". A complex, multi-layered symphonic poem designed to highlight the virtuosic skills of the musicians performing it, it is also, and maybe first of all, a downright beautiful work. Needless to say that the NYCP's players have all the necessary chops to deliver a brilliant and moving rendition of it, and they did.

And then, just when we thought the concert was over, an irresistible set of variations on "Happy Birthday" filled up the church in celebration of Donald Weilerstein's 75th birthday. A totally unexpected but much savored bonbon for the road back across the park.

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