Music Director & Conductor: Julian Wachner
Salonen: Five Images after Sappho
Soprano: Mellissa Hughes
Brahms: Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16
After another week of slowly exploring with increasing interest my new office's neighborhood, I was happily back in the Trinity Wall Street Church last Thursday for the second Concert at One of the season. Although I will probably not attend all of them, this time I had planned ahead carefully in order to be able to make it for the intriguing pairing of the ever-cool modernist Finnish Essa-Pekka Salonen and the ever-traditional Romantic German Johann Brahms, a combination that promised a blissful hour of instrumental music with the NOVUS NY chamber orchestra and soprano Mellissa Hughes. You gotta give it to Julian Wachner, the church's music director and conductor. Even if part of the audience obviously stumbles across those concerts by chance as they are tirelessly touring the bustling area with backpacks, maps and cameras in tow, he sets the bar high and resolutely keeps it right up there for all music lovers.
For Five Images after Sappho, composer-turned-conductor-turned-composer Essa-Pekka Salonen drew his inspiration from texts by the Greek poet Sappho and came up with a musical journey illustrating the life of a young woman in five short but telling episodes. Salonen being an imaginative composer with a knack for brilliant and accessible music, the vivacious chamber orchestra and the appealing soprano Mellissa Hughes had no trouble making their way through the attractive score to deliver a totally committed and satisfying performance, even if the musicians at times covered the singer's unswerving singing in the beautiful but not acoustically ideal space.
Dedicated to his beloved Clara Schumann, Brahms' Serenade No. 2 is indisputably a mature and impressive work on its own, but it can also be seen as an insightful preview of the magnificent symphonies that were to come much later (Painstaking perfectionism oblige). The Adagio, one of Clara Schumann's favorite musical pieces ever, interestingly acts as the core of the piece, the four other movements developing in a carefully designed palindrome structure around it. Clearly buoyant at the opportunity to play such openly uplifting music, the orchestra of woodwinds and low strings kept on enthusiastically generating plenty of sunny melodies and voluptuous lyricism in the best Brahms tradition. And then it was back to the usual grind, but with a revved-up mind.