Wednesday, March 2, 2016

DSO & Brasil Guitar Duo Wow Audiences with US Premiere

By Christine Facciolo
The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) both secured a place in music history and established itself as a strong contender for a 2017 Grammy nod with this weekend’s performance and recording of three double guitar concerti, including the US Premiere of El Libro de Los Signos (The Book of Signs) by Cuban composer and cultural icon, Leo Brouwer.

Lending their virtuosic playing to the project was the Brasil Guitar Duo, the stunning collaboration of the supremely musical Joao Luiz and Douglas Lora. Endowed with extraordinary professionalism and technical mastery, these two young talents — who met as teen-aged guitar students in Sao Paolo — have earned critical acclaim for the sensitivity, refinement and mutual respect they bring to every performance.

The near sell-out crowd was especially hushed during their performance. One might attribute that to the fact that they knew recording was in progress. But it’s more likely they were simply in awe of this breathtaking display of artistry.

Luiz and Lora introduced themselves to the audience with a masterful performance of the unaccompanied Sete Aneis (7 Rings) by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti (b. 1947). This one-movement composition in Rondo form is based on the “choro,” one of the first forms of Brazilian urban music, which made its way to Rio de Janeiro from Africa in the mid-19th Century. The work is a study in contrasts and the duo accommodated. A wistful opening morphed into a blazing pizzicato passage before wrapping up with a lyrical and tender finish.

Next came the much-anticipated US Premiere of El Libro de los Signos (The Book of Signs) by Brouwer (b. 1939), widely considered to be the most significant living composer of art music for the guitar. This work — scored for two guitars and string orchestra — features music from Brouwer’s Afro-Cuban roots mixed with traditional form. The work was composed in 2003 at the behest of Greek guitarist Costas Cotsiolis and John Williams, and premiered in January 2004 at the Megaron Theatre in Athens. According to the composer, its language uses sounds to explore its rest-motion ambivalence.

The first movement features a series of variations on a theme by Beethoven. The second gives the same treatment to a more lyrical theme. The third — and most virtuosic — exhibits more of the Cuban influence. Brouwer achieves a seamless web of sound by the interplay of passages that at times have the guitars sounding like the orchestra and at other times having the orchestra play in the style of a guitar.

The duo rounded out their portion of the concert with a performance of the Concerto Caboclo for two guitars and orchestra composed especially for them by fellow Brazilian Paulo Bellinati (b. 1950). The duo honored their idol — who was in attendance — with a masterful performance.

Bellinati draws on Brazil’s rich musical heritage, infusing it with contemporary harmonies and techniques. The opening movement is most unusual for a concerto. In place of a fast-paced Allegro, the soloists enter with a cadenza in which they share musical materials much like a conversation. The orchestra entered only to be interrupted by another cadenza. Even as the movement increased in intensity, the music never lost the relaxed and lyrical feel of the coutryside.

The second movement (Adagio) was inspired by the Brazilian songs known as modas de viola. In keeping with the question-and-answer structure of these songs, one could frequently hear rhythmic ostinatos used in one guitar as accompaniment for the other. More ostinatos are heard in the final movement, which featured catchy rhythms and flashy fingerwork. Maestro David Amado’s meticulous direction of the orchestra’s dynamic levels ensured that the soloists were never overpowered.

The second half of the program was devoted to a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, an opium-filled tale of love, obsession, betrayal and murder. In his pre-concert remarks, commented on how Berlioz, who made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his “Treatise on Instrumentation,” took an abstract form — the symphony 
 and used it to tell a story. And while symphonies that followed a program had existed before, most notably Beethoven’s Pastoral, Berlioz took the process to its logical conclusion with every note geared to the specifics of his p lot. That accomplishment as well as his use of the “idée fixe” would go on to inspire composers like Wagner and Liszt.

This truly iconic work poses a challenge to any conductor: Do you play the music and let the story take care of itself, or do you help it along? Amado’s reading is absolutely on the right side of sentimentality. His interpretation bristled with desire and intention. The first movement was playful and flirtatious. The ball waltzed itself into sheer delirium. As the music turned dark, Amado followed suit: the rhythms were unyielding; the mocking of Berlioz’s hero filled with spite. He kept the momentum going beyond the March to the Scaffold. The Witches’ Sabbath with its growly brass and tense strings sustained the nightmare to the very end. And let’s not forget the punctuation of the requiem Dies Irae by The Bells of Remembrance, which are featured in each concert of the DSO’s Classics Series this season.


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