Stamford Symphony celebrates American music

22. Mar. 2006 – Stamford Symphony celebrates American music

 

Symphonic programs of modern American music have traditionally been eclectic. But few are designed and presented as well as the Stamford Symphony's "American Legends" concert.

The program, described by conductor Eckart Preu from the podium as "different voices from the American musical landscape," was designed in two, almost mirrored halves.

Each opened with a programmatic and somewhat atmospheric piece, followed by high-energy chamber music and concluded with what might be called a "new classic."

The evening opened with a work less than five years old: "Blue Cathedral" by Jennifer Higdon. In assessing stereotypical reaction of audiences to new music, Preu assured us that in this work "nothing bad was going to happen." Chuckles rippled throughout the hall. He also asked for a quick demonstration of a few of the effects created in the work by a glass armonica and rattled Chinese health balls. The work itself effectively contrasted solo writing against strongly lyrical larger forces. This performance felt connected, and succeeded in weaving together atmospheric strands and musical line as the work developed. The ending dissolved in an otherworldly texture that was wonderfully resonant. The clarinet solos were balanced particularly well.

Next was "Lex." If you are unfamiliar with the music of Michael Daugherty, then fix that. He is talented, outrageous, and clever. "Lex" is the opening movement of the Metropolis Symphony, each movement of which is based on the "Superman" comic series. The music is scored for an ensemble of four mostly keyboard percussionists, timpani and two electronic keyboards. Erica Kiesewetter played the villain Lex's amplified violin part as well as I have heard it played live. It was clean, fiery and conveyed the mechanical intensity of perpetual motion with the humor and parody appropriate to textures that are articulated by stereophonic referee's whistles. I wish that the amplification was even louder -- it would have made an even stronger impact.

Wendy Warner joined the orchestra as soloist in the "Barber Cello Concerto." She has a very warm sound and a fluid ability to navigate the cello as though it were a much smaller fingerboard. She has an engaging way of snapping figurations and embellishments, a unique sonic poise, and I can see why she was drawn to this work. The second movement was incredible. Melanie Feld worked her breath-defying oboe solo into a gorgeous legato and Warner listened carefully as the cello interacted with the oboe -- easily the highpoint of the evening.

After intermission, we heard music by Charlie Chaplin for his final film, "Limelight" (1952). Michael Fink was kind enough to explain in generous terms that Chaplin "had remarkable musical instincts" and worked with "real" composers to achieve the final results. Something of the Chaplin personality is preserved in the music, and this was a creative and welcome choice for a program like this.

An example of the orchestral music of Frank Zappa was next on the program. "G-Spot Tornado" continued the mirrored structure of the program halves by using a smaller ensemble, and, following up on the pop-music influence on Daugherty, this piece articulates classical music's influence on Zappa. It was a charismatic work, but occasionally slightly out of control in this performance.

The evening concluded as the Greenwich Choral Society joined the orchestra for the "Chichester Psalms" by Leonard Bernstein. The Greenwich Choral Society delivered a highly rhythmic and energetic reading, particularly in the opening movement, dominated as it is in an irresistible 7-time.

Tucker Fisher swept us away with his Treble solo in the famous second movement. Rarely is this solo navigated with as sure a sense of strong musicality as he brought. The quiet ending brought a convincing close to the evening of music.

 

Published March 23 2006 Copyright © 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

 

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