Monday, October 26, 2015

American Composers Orchestra - Orchestra Underground: 21st Firsts - 10/23/15

Music Director & Conductor: George Manahan
Michael-Thomas Foumai: The Spider Thread
Melody Eotvos: Red Dirt/Silver Rain
Hannah Lash: Concerto for Harp and Chamber Orchestra
Hannah Lash: Harp
Judah Adashi: Sestina for Voice and Orchestra
Caroline Shaw: Voice
Conrad Winslow: Joint Account for Orchestra and Video
Paul Libier: Projections

For its 125th anniversary, Carnegie Hall had boldly decided to focus not on its prestigious past but on an equally exciting future by commissioning 125 new classical music works to be performed in the next five years. Reaching far and wide, the ambitious 125 Commissions Project represents a serious injection of fresh blood into art form that is regularly presented as stagnating at least, and promises quite a few interesting evenings in perspective as well. What's not to love?
And that's why on Friday evening my friend Christine, who had decided she was up for the challenge after all, and I celebrated the end of the work week by heading to the cool Zankel Hall for the closing night of the SONiC festival with a concert that would include five world premieres composed by young but already much lauded composers and performed by the American Composers Orchestra, which has been creating, performing, preserving and promoting music by American composers for the past 39 years.

Hawaii-born Michael-Thomas Foumai's The Spider Thread opened the concert with some suspense and plenty of cleverness, even if the background story (A criminal trying to climb out of hell to paradise, only to fall right back into darkness again) was on the macabre side.
Australia-born and raised Melody Eotvos remembered her childhood in Queensland with her subtly atmospheric Red Dirt/Silver Rain. Inspired by the local dirt's volcanic red and the summer's rain showers, this irresistible invitation to share her memories felt like a dreamy, organic journey to the Land Down Under, which maestro George Manahan and his orchestra beautifully evoked.
Hannah Lash made the old saying "You are never as well served as when you serve yourself" an obvious truth when she assuredly filled in the soloist position in her Concerto for Harp and Chamber Orchestra with elegance and sensitivity. Always an instrument rightfully associated with mystery and ethereality, the harp rarely gets to be center stage, and this virtuosic performance of a harp-centered work proved that it is a damn shame.
The shortest among all those short pieces, Judah Adashi's Sestina for Voice and Orchestra clocked in at 12 minutes, but for some reason felt the longest of them all. Sung torch-song style by Caroline Shaw, the composition unravels an entire romantic relationship with six words, using Ciara Shuttleworth's poem Sestina, and soft melancholy.
Then we were served the sounds and visions combo of Conrad Winslow's Joint Account for Orchestra and Video, which was inspired by "Baroque theorist Johann Mattheson's 1739 manual of techniques on representing emotions in music". The result was a fast-paced hodge-podge of video excerpts accompanied by a lively score, or maybe the other way around, which concluded the concert on a colorful and chaotic note.

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