The New Juilliard Ensemble
Conductor: Joel Sachs
Lucas Francesconi: Da Capo II
James Crowley: Circle in the Round
Paul Archbold: Traces
Hroomar Ingi Sigurbjornsson: Septet
Despite the many live music offerings The Big Apple has in store each summer, I tend to stay away from outdoor performances essentially due to the unappealing combination of chatty audiences, pesky bugs, unpredictable weather, predictable works and, to a much lesser degree, amplified sound. But there are of course occasional exceptions to that not so hard-and-fast rule.
And the first concert of MoMA's ever-popular Summergarden series last Sunday was one of them as I was quickly pulled in by the perfect weather and an intriguing program of New York premieres coming from Italy, English, Iceland and…Milwaukee, WI, which, to make the proposition even more attractive, would be performed by some of the still young but already impressively seasoned members of The New Juilliard Ensemble under the familiar baton of Joel Sachs.
Therefore, after spending most of my Saturday morning inside MoMA fully enjoying the visual arts, on Sunday afternoon I sat on the sidewalk outside MoMA for almost an hour, and then on a chair inside the oh so cool sculpture garden for another hour, before being able to fully enjoy some of the finest musical art the city had to offer, which is actually saying something.
After a couple of de rigueur short speeches, the concert briskly opened with Lucas Francesconi's Da Capo II (From the beginning II), which was performed for the first time outside of Europe for the occasion. Built as a "single giant arch", the bright piece progressed with plenty of determination and energy. Although each instrument actively contributed to the clever whole, the piano assertively stood out, as much through the actual part that had been written for it as through the virtuosic playing of Robert Fleitz.
From Italy we moved back to United States with the New York premiere of James Crowley's Circle in the Round, whose title was borrowed from a compilation record by Miles Davis, a worthy "musical hero" if there ever was one. Making full use of the six musicians on the stage, the composition turned out to be highly explorative and wildly inventive, constantly engaging in new paths and assuredly keeping the audience on its mesmerized toes, an audience that made sure to express its deep appreciation by giving the attending composer an enthusiastic ovation.
After a brief intermission, we became acquainted with Paul Archbold's Traces, which was coming straight from England and making its first appearance outside of Europe. Inspired by Debussy's notoriously challenging Étude No. 8 "Pour les agréments" (For ornaments), the delightful two-movement piece started with a long melody line that became a series of chords that blossomed into myriads of melodies, all beautifully rendered by the hard-working orchestra. The composer, who was sitting among us, seemed very pleased by the performance, and so were we.
We finished the concert with the most substantial work of the evening, Hroomar Ingi Sigurbjornsson's Septet. Heard for the first time outside Iceland on Sunday, the four movements dynamically unfolded with the kind of zest and vigor that spontaneously bring to mind eastern European music in general and Bela Bartok in particular. There were also a few opportunities for some musicians to shine in mini-solos, which they did brilliantly.
That was certainly an outdoor performance that I would not have wanted to miss. Even the couple of giant dragonflies insistently hovering over us, the police sirens and helicopters sounds reminding us of our urban environment, and the loud picnickers apparently unable to stop stuffing their faces did not manage to spoil this enchanted evening.