Review: Louisville Orchestra Offers Discovery in the Old and New

Abrams-Photo-by-Sam-English

Teddy Abrams continues to show that orchestra concerts don’t have to be formulaic, and that discovery manifest in different ways. This past Friday and Saturday evening, we discovered, for example, that a conductor doesn’t have to wear a tuxedo or black socks. We discovered that hearing a 5-7 minute harpsichord improvisation could be interesting and fun, if not a little too long. We discovered the 2014 Grawemeyer winner. Ultimately no one was harmed by these discoveries, that I’m aware of, and we are all the better for them.

First of the evening were selections from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman), a comédie-ballet from the early Baroque. Teddy Abrams led from the harpsichord (not as Lully would have done, but as most of his contemporaries would have) and the orchestra moved through the score like a jazz band reading through charts. It felt informal, welcoming, unpretentious and fun.

Lack of rehearsal, due to last week’s snow storms, meant no Ravel. It also might explain a handful of messy entrances in the Lully and Vivaldi. Just starting a piece can be the hardest and most nerve-racking part of leading an ensemble. Add the layer of conducting almost entirely from the harpsichord and things get messy sometimes; though messy isn’t necessarily bad.

A welcome addition to this Louisville Orchestra season is a recent Grawemeyer winner, the 2014 awarded On the Guarding of the Heart by Djuro Zivkovich, a Serbian composer living in Sweden. He describes the work as an “instrumental cantata,” paying homage to Bach. Zivkovich’s 20-minute score is an exploration of sound and timbre; the fourteen musicians are frequently required to play outside their traditional sounds, including singing along with their instrument. Overall, the work is a delicate layering of harmony, shifting imperceptibly, showing off an inner beauty.

Though Abrams explained before the piece that structure in this new work is important and clear, to a new listener form and musical architecture are largely inaudible. We are naturally drawn to phrases and ideas that return. Here Zivkovich gives some ideas too little time to settle, while others are afforded too much time, including several insurmountable piano drones. While the Brown Theater was a better venue than Whitney Hall for On the Guarding of the Heart, an even smaller, more resonant hall would have better suited Zivkovich’s (and Lully and Vivaldi’s) music.

For the second half, Teddy Abrams brought in four student violinists from his alma mater, The Curtis Institute of Music, through “Curtis on Tour,” a program that puts students in professional settings around the world.

Each violinist took on one of the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, a set of concertos written in 1720 and part of a set of 12 concertos (op. 8). The fact that “Spring” (and all the seasons) are ubiquitous is all the more incredible when you consider that Vivaldi was virtually unknown until the early Twentieth century. Despite their over abundance in playlists and “Best Of” compilations, these seasonal vignettes are inventive and imaginative. The two cheerful seasons, “Spring” and “Autumn,” are contrasted with the more tumultuous “Summer” and “Winter.”

Eunice Kim played a light and fluid “Spring,” delicately bouncing through the score, and smiling the entire time. Dayna Anderson drew on the earthiness of “Summer,” giving her bow a rustic growl here and there. The most flamboyant soloist was Luosha Fang, mostly interested in a dialogue with the orchestra and the audience, moving around the stage like an actor. The “iceman” Nikki Chooi was calculated — each gesture focused and transparent. Chooi found every timbre available in “Winter,” from dark and guttural to airy and shimmering.

The orchestra, playing no small part in these finely crafted concertos, was colorful and sensitive to the score: never plodding and always attuned to the nuance of Vivaldi’s music. Seeing the conductor equally involved in the playing of music changes our level of involvement. We are drawn in closer. The implied barrier between us and them is no longer present, and the music is about all of us.

Featured Album: Avi Avital’s Vivaldi

avi avital harald hoffmann

Mandolinist Avi Avital embarks on a Venetian journey in his latest Deutsche Grammophon album, with the Venice Baroque Orchestra and guests artists Juan Diego Flórez, Mahan Esfahani, Ophira Zakai and Patrick Sepec. “Vivaldi” includes the landmark concertos for mandolin (RV 356, 93 & 425), the Trio Sonata, RV 82; and a new recording of the “Summer” concerto from the Four Seasons. Listen to Avi Avital’s “Vivladi” this week on Classical 90.5! (Photo credit: (c) Harald Hoffermann/DG)

Featured Album: Vivaldi Recomposed

Richter Four Seasons Recomposed

How many times have you heard Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons? How many times do you think violinists and orchestras have performed it? It is one of the most popular and iconic works in classical music (actually, Baroque music), and with good reason: it’s full of color, evocative and powerful. Max Richter has taken this unforgettable music and “Recomposed” it for violinist Daniel Hope, the Concerthaus Chamber Orchestra of Berlin and conductor André de Ridder (Richter also plays the Moog Synthesizer), and released it on Deutsche Grammophon. Listen to it this week as our Featured Album!

Ensemble Matheus

This Wednesday’s Carnegie Hall Live presents Ensemble Matheus, performing three Baroque (and rival!) composers: Antonio Vivaldi, George Frederic Handel and the lesser known Nicola Antonio Porpora.

Performers
Ensemble Matheus
Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Director and Violin
Veronica Cangemi, Soprano
Laurence Paugam, Violin
Claire-Lise Démettre, Cello
Jérôme Pernoo, Cello

Program
HANDEL Overture to Serse
HANDEL “Frondi tenere” from Serse
HANDEL “Ombra mai fù” from Serse
VIVALDI “Gelosia” from Ottone in Villa
VIVALDI Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, Cello, Strings, and Continuo from L’estro armonico, Op. 3, No. 11
VIVALDI “Zeffiretti che sussurate” from Ercole su’l Termodonte
VIVALDI Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos, Strings, and Continuo, RV 531
VIVALDI “Se mai senti” from Catone in Utica
PORPORA Concerto in G Major for Cello
VIVALDI “Siam navi all’onde algenti” from L’Olimpiade

Photo Credit: Edouard Brane