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Virtuosic Vivaldi


Violinist Chad Hoopes with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra wowed Friday’s opening night audience of Newport Classical Music Festival.

In the opulent splendor and magnificent acoustics of the Breakers Great Hall, overlooking the sea, the Grammy Award winning conductorless ensemble delivered with virtuosity, precision, and joie de vivre on a sonic palette rich and vibrant. A glance at the program suggested a bow to the Baroque, but the realization provided interpretations, techniques, arrangements, and stylings that were at times lush and romantic, and elsewhere quite novel, modern, even jazzy.

The opening work, listed as La Folia by Francesco Geminiani, was actually a modern work by Michi Wiancko, who calls it an “arrangement based on Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso no. 12 (1729) which was, in turn, arranged after Corelli’s Sonata for Violin (1700).” La Folia itself has been set by over 150 composers across 3 centuries. It refers to a “bass line” rather than a melody, which like originated in Portugal in the latter part of the 15th century and was widely known throughout Europe during the Renaissance. By the Baroque era, a standardized harmonic progression accompanied the bass line, over which variations were written. Corelli’s may be the most famous, but well into the 19th and 20th centuries, the progression whether named or hidden, still tuned up. Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Rachmaninov employed it… just to name a few.

Wiancho said of her arrangement “…although many of these Variations for String Orchestra incorporate modern technique and textures, I intended to highlight my favorite aspects of the music made 300 years ago — aspects which still resonate strongly with us today: passion, improvisation, intimacy, and the occasional moment of irreverence.” While much of the piece seemed to reflect its “Baroque”-ness, there were excursions into modernity, with percussive syncopations, wood slapping and foot-stomping, tambourines, woodblocks, and an Antonio Carlos Jobim or at times Astor Piazzolla inspired set of Latin-variations, utilizing the complex chords* and voicings often used in modern jazz, these alternating with the more neo-Baroque recollections of Geminiani and Corelli. Sadly, if one did not read the scant handout essay on this piece, one would have missed the essence of this incredible composition and contribution of a brilliant American violinist and composer, who was not listed on the main program page.

The players recognized the 81-year-old American composer Adolphus Hailstork with his 1992 Sonata da Chiesa, a work of reverent lyric and tonal writing, much of it in counterpoint. The orchestra made use of textures in this work by using three levels of orchestras, recalling Ralph Vaughan Williams’s three orchestras for the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, pitting a solo group against a mid-layer of first desk players, with the full complement for the thickest and richest sections. Movement titles Exaltation, O Great Mystery, Adoration, Jubiliation, O Lamb of God, Grant Us Thy Peace, Exaltation—appeared in the printed essay, but not on the title page. Orpheus’s sensitivity and expressivity, left us with a serene sense of peace and wonder, ending on a note of quiet joy.

The evening concluded with the only actual Baroque work on the concert, a complete rendering of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons featuring guest soloist Chad Hoopes, First Prize Winner of the Young Artists Division of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition. His take seemed highly theatrical, flamboyant, and overly affected, with tinges of blatant romanticism. However, for those who don’t mind strongly seasoned Vivaldi, Hoopes proved exciting, exhilarating, dynamic; clearly he was having a lot of fun. The orchestra responded brilliantly with exceeding virtuosity, traversing the most rapid passages with flair and precision. They also engaged in some modern techniques such as talking some of the softest passages of the ‘Winter’ concerto sul ponticello, (close to the bridge) which allows more of the higher harmonics to prevail, producing a sound that is scratchy and eerily ghostlike, and in which the actual note is barely audible. Since this technique long post-dates original score, this interpretative choice seemed to accentuate the bizarre aspect of this more than is customary. Yet such outlandish, brash, and unabashed experiments made this undertaking so truly memorable. The audience clearly responded, the standing ovation demanding multiple bows and acknowledgements.

Moonlight and Mansion: The Breakers

Newport Classical — the rebranded, re-envisioned Newport Music Festival —partners with various organizations to create community-wide music making events and free family concerts year-round. This year’s chamber series also allowed us to discover a newly renovated recital hall at Emmanuel Church.

Despite Omicron, educational programming reached out to 400 children ages 3 through 13 this yera, and a $1M dollar multi-year endowment campaign matched by the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust, has neared its goal. For more on the campaign click HERE. For an overview of the entire Newport Classical Festival this summer click HERE.

*For those inclined to want to know more of the theory behind this, the term “complex chords” refers to chords that add the 9th, 11th, and 13th tones to the more standard 7th chords that form part of traditional harmony. [Chords are built from the bottom up, so the first note names the chord and additional notes are stacked above it in thirds, so that tones one-three-five form your major or minor triad, the 7th tone above that forms your group of seventh chords (for example the major seventh chord, used in this composition, is a frequently used chord in jazz).] The three tones above the seventh are often revoiced to form blocks or clusters, a feature of contemporary classical and jazz genres.

Stephen Martorella is Minister of Music at The First Baptist Church in America, Providence, Rhode Island, and teaches at Rhode Island College.

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