in: Reviews

March 21, 2015

New Symphonists at Old Church


Lawrence Isaacson (file photo)

Lawrence Isaacson (file photo)

At an unusual time of 6:30 on a Friday evening a brand new group in town began its “Soulful Searching” in a darkened Gordon Chapel of Old South Church. The only lighting during the 90-minute non-stop concert would come from little lights on the music stands. Taking the small audience a bit by surprise, from the rear of the chapel, Ryan Shannan and Aubrey Holmes began playing, as if out of blue, the Andante cantabile from Sonata for Two Violins in C Major by Sergei Prokofiev.

Such goings-on set the tone for Symphony Nova whose aim is “to transform aspiring orchestra musicians into successful arts professionals.” This recently formed organization smartly recognizes the “number of students graduating music schools is staggering and has been increasing steadily for many years. Sadly, the employment opportunities in the classical music field haven’t kept pace.” Founder, presiding force, and sometimes conductor Lawrence Isaacson has doing his best to redress this.

But would such an atmosphere and the programming of short works by Nielsen, Foss, Glass, Weis, and Gershwin, along with single movements from sonatas by Prokofiev and Brahms prove to be in some way transformative? Were their departures from normal starting time and venue —it was my first time in Gordon Chapel—their “antiphonal” playing, their preference for sparse lighting, all an effort toward creating new opportunities for players and listeners alike?

Nova’s concert title “Soulful Searching” surely played not only into the music itself but the entire feel of this early Friday evening at once welcome and curious outing.

Later came George Gershwin’s Lullaby, again from behind us. The string quartet was too heavy, as were most all of the various combinations of strings and winds. For one, Carl Nielsen’s Serenata in Vano became unpleasantly thick in the cavernous Gordon Chapel. Lukas Foss’s For Toru continued the overall “soulfulness” of an evening that generally moved in slow motion.

Phillip Glass’s String Quartet No. 2 “Company,” with Shannon and Homes plus violist Bryan Tyler cellist Nick Dinnerstein, found transparency, refreshingly lightening the proceedings. Flemming Weis’s Serenade “Without Serious Intentions” seemed a strange vehicle for soulful searching and, while played with gusto and tonal precision—Kate Lemmon, flute; Alica Maloney, oboe; Nicholas, clarinet; Marina Krickler, horn; and guest Hillary Erbe, bassoon—was of little interest musically, especially following the Brahms. Clarinetist Brown expressed his love through beautiful tone for his iteration of the Andantino from Clarinet Quintet in B Minor by the German master.

Yet another little surprise concluded this rather offbeat recital. Prokofiev’s rarely heard Quintet in G Minor, Op.39 broke away with energized, robust playing; but, again, the acoustics rendered harsh or overly bright the fine sounds from these shining, youthful Novas. Kate Foss and Peter Ferretti were the double bassists.

While there was little for the eye to see, there was much to observe in the way of Symphony Nova’s fledgling campaign to reinvigorate the classical music scene through what it calls a “transformative” process. All are already very far along in their technical and musical aspirations, and are approaching their very real goal of achieving fine artistry. Given the strangely mixed worklist, the sonically drenching chapel and the obscure lighting, though, intimate sharing hardly ever happened.

Symphony Nova’s season ends with “Carte Blanche,” another musical potpourri, Friday, April 24, again at 6:30 pm and, I am assuming, at Old South Church.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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