Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Copeland Plays Shostakovich and Then Some

Hurray for the clean and light rendition the Copeland String Quartet gave to the String Quartet No. 43 in G Major, Opus 54, No. 1! No cloying rubatos, just the smooth tones of Eliezer Gutman as he played the theme to the Allegro con brio. In the Menuetto allegretto, Mark Ward’s cello solo was majestic – reminding me of the fugue in the Emperor quartet. The finale presto had lots of wonderful ensemble playing at quite a clip until it suddenly ended in a whisper.

The String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, opus 110 by Dmitri Shostakovich takes us to entirely different musical territory. The five short movements are played without interruption and Shostakovich wrote so that each instrument blends with the others but also has its own share of the theme, which recurred throughout the quartet – especially in the first and fifth movements. The quartet interpreted the sudden changes in style and mood seamlessly while appearing to have fun in the process.

The outrageous speed of the allegro molto demanded both technical prowess and the ability to see the shape of the piece as it unfolded. The allegretto gave them a merry chase as well – Eliezer Gutman had the macabre dance theme and Nina Cottman played double stops on the second and third beats as Mark Ward had the downbeat of the waltz – then Cottman and Ward each had the waltz accompaniments alone.

Tom Jackson and Gutman were perfectly matched in the very fast passages filled with half-steps and usually a fourth apart. How do they stay in tune? The chorale writing of the last two largo movements was beautiful and heart-wrenching. When it ends, you don’t know whether to feel sad or happy. I just know I was happy to hear it and delighted that Delaware has a group that can play these extremely demanding pieces.

See www.copelandstringquartet.com.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Delaware Composer Premiere

The motive which permeates all three movements of Chuck Holdeman’s Quatuor Excentrique is a short melodic phrase reminiscent of a soft, singable Arvo Pärt tune. But the composition premiered at the Second Annual Visual and Performing Arts Festival at West Chester has some Twenty-First Century harshness as well.

The three-movement quartet was based on Holdeman’s 2001 composition, Divertissement, a piece which was commissioned by the Adirondack Ensemble which featured a balaphon – an African xylophone with about a dozen notes.

Holdeman revised the Divertissement and added two other movements that he scored for violin, cello, marimba and bassoon.

The Divertissement retains a classical quartet feeling, with a good blend and balance between the instruments. Sylvia Ahramjian played violin facing the back of the stage to avoid overpowering the bassoon played by Holdeman. Chris Hanning kept the marimba extremely pianissimo through most of the movement, allowing Ovidiu Marinescu’s smooth cello sound to come to the forefront.

The second and third movement kept the same theme, but the second (Mélancolique) was muted and doleful while the third movement (Outré) ended in a jazzy and wild frenzy, with Marinescu and Holdeman playing dueling bassoon/cello and Chris Hanning seemingly playing the entire marimba keyboard at once.

Holdeman commented, “I was very grateful to the West Chester players for this opportunity to revisit the tune which opens the quartet, not only to hear it again, but to permit it to go in new directions. And I always felt the Divertissement was a little too short, and perhaps lonely. Now it has two companion movements."

Delaware artist Wes Meminger was at the premiere and compared the third movement to a work by Piet Mondrian entitled Broadway-Boogie Woogie (see above).

Holdeman is in residence for the rest of September at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts supported by a grant awarded to a Delaware artist by the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation of Baltimore.

See www.chuckholdeman.com.

Local group nominated for Latin Grammy

You read the headline and said to yourself that a local samba rock band must have made a CD, no?

Not even close. The wild and raucous group whose CD drew the attentions of judges in the Latin Grammy is none other than the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.

The category in which they are competing is CLASSIC (sic) and the subcategory is Best Classical Contemporary Composition. They recorded a piece by Sergio Assad called Interchange which he wrote for the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the recording was quickly and brilliantly made and mixed by Telarc.

The LAGQ performed the world premiere of the piece live with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra in May 2009 and the recording was made just after the performances.

Much credit should go to the gifted and frighteningly intelligent music director of the DSO, David Amado. He has chosen artists and repertory which have not always attracted large audiences, but he has managed to make contacts with young artists and composers.

His orchestra, already good when he took the helm, has become a unified living and breathing entity on its own merit. The players have been playing an extremely wide and demanding range of works under Amado’s direction and this has given them the sort of confidence, prowess and dependability that enticed the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet to record a world premiere with them.

Congratulations are due to all involved in this impressive project. And don’t worry, there are still a lot of Latin rockers going to Las Vegas in November, too.

See http://www.delawaresymphony.org/.

See http://www.latingrammy.com/.