Conductor: Eli Spindel
Adams: Shaker Loops (1982 revised version)
Wolfe: Four Marys
Gorecki: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 40
Adam Tendler: Pianist
Who said that New York City’s Mostly Mozart Festival is practically the only classical music game in town in summer? Certainly not The New Yorker magazine, which earned my deepest gratitude last week for directing my attention to the less well-known and less fancy ̶ but definitely more ambitious ̶ String Orchestra of Brooklyn, who were giving a concert in the historic St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, in Brooklyn Heights, last Saturday night. The contemporary program could not help but make a strong impression with John Adams’ early classic and personal favorite Shaker Loops, Julia Wolfe’s intriguing Four Marys, and Henryk Gorecki’s short but eloquent piano concerto.
The 2 and 3 subway lines having just resumed running almost normally (Not that there is anything really normal with the MTA these days), my weekend trips to Brooklyn are thankfully transfer-free again. To make the deal even sweeter, my friend Christine had the brilliant idea of organizing an informal wine-and-munchies get-together with her mom and her friend Karen because culinary and musical pleasures go so well together. Even Mother Nature had apparently decided to treat us to one of her dry, if still sultry, summer nights.
So I temporarily got over my distaste of going out on Saturday night and valiantly left the island for an evening across the East River. As soon as we stepped into the magnificent Episcopal church, I knew it would be worth the effort. I mean, what could go wrong with enjoying an exciting concert in such a stunning setting?
The small orchestra may have had the most casual dress code I have ever seen (and that includes rehearsals), but there was nothing even remotely casual about their music-making. Alert and ready, they immediately took ownership of Adams’ 1982 version of his perennially fresh and downright infectious Shaker Loops, which had been upgraded from the original septet to a reduced orchestra, and smoothly ran with it. As he was combining the fun of playing around with melodies and the thrill of breaking new ground, Adams was also coming into his own as a minimalist composer, and it shows. On Saturday night, the orchestra conducted by Eli Spindel managed all those treacherous loops with plenty of dexterity and flair for a totally engaging performance.
The mysterious piece du jour was Wolfe’s Four Marys, which had also been fleshed out from its original quartet form for a larger ensemble. Considering the caliber of the two other works on the program, I was fairly confident that this one would be of at least some interest too. And I was readily proven right as the Appalachian dulcimer-inspired music came out assertively focused, at times subtly nostalgic, with plenty of attractive colors flying around and just the right amount of grittiness.
Last, but definitely not least, new music advocate and intrepid pianist Adam Tendler joined the orchestra for Gorecki’s headily rhythm-driven piano concerto, which they fearlessly and virtuosically dispatched. Hitting the ground running with impeccable timing and enthusiastic gusto, piano and strings kept on going strong throughout the exhilarating 10-minute ride. Va-va-voom!
After the short but taxing test of endurance, Adam Tendler was kind enough to come back and play John Adams’ beautifully nuanced China Gates, which brilliantly brought the intense one-hour concert pretty much full circle before exquisitely fading away. And there was nothing more to say.