in: Reviews

November 19, 2009

NEC Chamber Orchestra Heads South

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No, the organization is not in financial trouble (that I’m aware of);  this is a bit more literal sense of the phrase. At their concert on November 16 at Jordan Hall, the conductorless New England Conservatory Chamber Orchestra (a small string ensemble) put its focus on two contrasting Argentine composers: Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla. The former was represented by his Concerto for Strings from 1966, and the latter by The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, in the arrangement for solo violin and strings by Leonid Desyatnikov from the 1964-70 originals scored for Piazzolla’s own ensemble of violin, piano electric guitar, contrabass and bandoneón.

The Ginastera dates from the early years of what he called his “neo-expressionist” style. However, unlike the purely internationalist atonality of some of his later works, this one conveyed a sense of an underlying tonality that was never made explicit. In any event, the writing was dramatically charged and emotionally direct, with a virtuosic surface that the NEC players seized with gusto. The first movement was a concertante set of variations for each section’s principal, in this instance violinists Alexander Chaleff and Hyejin Yune, violist Rachel Ku, cellist Han Bin Yoon, and bass Luke Sutherland. The ensemble playing in the rest of the work was dynamite, earning the group several curtain calls.

NEC President Tony Woodcock’s radio spots promoting this concert (a fabulous idea, by the way: does the president of Juilliard do as much for putting its students so squarely at the heart of public music-making?) focused largely on the Piazzolla, understandably, as this accessible, synthetic suite — the four pieces were originally separate compositions seldom performed all together by the composer — is a real crowd-pleaser. Each movement featured a different soloist, each of whom exchanged orchestral collegiality and decorum for a walk on the wild side, exploding with vivacity and personality. The four — Sandy Cameron, Dami Kim, Xiang Yu, and Robin Scott—had distinct musical and stage personalities, adding further variety to the composer’s treatment of the seasons, which the music suggests are not quite as disparate as they are in New England. The soloists, ensemble, and audience all appeared to have a wonderful time.

Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble.

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