Monday, March 22, 2010

Reaching Through Roots

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s New World, New Music concert took us across the ocean, borders and back to our American soil. It was the ensemble’s premier of Chris Thile’s Mandolin Concerto, “Ad astra per alas porci” (To the stars on the wings of a pig). Also on the program were Aaron Copland’s El Salón México and Antonin Dvořák’s beloved From the New World (Symphony No. 9, op. 95, E minor).

Informative and light-hearted, the pre-concert talk by Music Director David Amado and Mark Mobley, Director of Community Engagement, included information about the upcoming season, and the DSO’s first CD, (This fabulous CD scheduled to be released this week, features the LA Guitar Quartet and music of Joaquin Rodrigo and Sergio Assad.)
During these forums, I always learn some interesting details about performance practice or musicology not found in the program notes: Amado talked about the pleasures of collaborating with composers and performers and the challenges of reading and interpreting Dvořák’s messy manuscripts.

If ever there were a way to combine bluegrass, “classical” music, jazz and rock n’ roll, Chris Thile has found it in his Mandolin Concerto. The first movement, “A March, a Waltz and a Jig” introduced us to the variety of sounds he is able to pull from this diminutive instrument. Slightly amplified, Thile whips out a partly improvised cadenza. As a siren from the street chimed in, a wide smile spread across Thile’s face. It continued on, weaving itself into the texture of the music. After the concert, he told me he thought for a split second the siren might have been an instrument entering just a half step under pitch. As a veritable “Jimi Hendrix” on the mandolin, Thile often seemed surprised by his own prowess, and the instrument almost appeared to be playing him. The second movement, “Air on the F Train” (clearly a play on words- who isn’t dying for air on the F Train?), embodied the lurching of that old train on its tracks. The melodies, weaving up and down and back again, came to a peaceful resolution. In the last movement “The Fifth Glass” the orchestra itself became a large mandolin as the playful repartee between instruments and sections mirrored that of the soloist. Thile graced the audience with a striking rendition of the Gigue from Bach’s Violin Partita in D minor. His phrasing was both stylistically appropriate and deeply musical, even though he had joked the string section to put on their invisible earmuffs.

Amado created an onstage utopia with his interpretation of Dvořák’s symphony. Dvořák bends and twists distinctly African American sounding melodies into brooding large swaths of sound. His style is reminiscent of Brahms’: a tragic melody tries to interrupt the calm setting, with brass and timpani taking over. The entire orchestra seemed to be joined by some invisible forces and the beauty of the music was sometimes heart breaking. The audience rose to their feet at the end of the concert, and it was clear the players had enjoyed their experience. As I left the Grand Opera House, Doris Loder (Viola) told me the Dvořák touches the soul, and that she was so glad have the opportunity to play the concert again on Saturday.


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