Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The Chelsea Symphony Play on Halloween 2009

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it wasn’t exactly that –  instead, a brutally humid afternoon with the occasional sputter of raindrops sprinkling  the revelers whose numbers gathered as the sun went down. Gathered in the beautiful Gilded Age interior of St. Paul’s German Church in Chelsea, an enthusiastic audience was treated to an imaginative, innovative, skillful performance of both old chestnuts (or old jack-o’-lanterns, maybe?) and new compositions by a couple of members of the Chelsea Symphony, one of New York’s newest and most adventurous orchestras.

With maestro Mark Seto on the podium, they opened with a shockingly subtle version of Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. Other orchestras treat this as classical heavy metal, barrelling through it with a gleeful abandon. In this ensemble’s hands, it was a joyous, festive romp through a series of Balkan-inflected dances, more delight than menace. Up close, the stereo effects of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement were nothing short of psychedelic, and the dynamics were striking, notably the beautiful flute solo at the end as the sun rises and the spirits have all gone back to wherever they linger when they’re not dancing up a storm.

Next on the program were two richly and compellingly performed world premieres. The droning introduction to Benjamin Brody’s Prelude seemed at first like it would remain static, in a Steve Reich vein, but quietly and methodically built to a starkly beautiful minimalism, long crescendos leading into a memorable two-bar theme where the percussionist’s tubular bells grew more insistent, finally to the point where they introduced each phrase as they recurred. And then suddenly it was over. Bassist Tim Kiah‘s Rise From the Ashes built in a circular fashion, something akin to Meredith Monk, its second movement swaying along on the slinky pulse of a modified bossa nova bassline into a cinematic waltz. At the end, bells added an eerie ninth interval to its deliberate, stately beat.

The second half of the program began with an idiosyncratic yet rewarding take on Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre. Like the Moussorgsky before it, it’s a staple of the horror classical canon. Under the direction of the second of the afternoon’s two conductors, Miguel Campos Neto, it became a careful, even stately, courtly dance, albeit a totally twisted one. Those who know this from innumerable recorded versions will recall how right before the final crescendo, the brass rises, goosebumps and all, against the strings’ macabre main theme and this was as lushly memorable as it was ghoulish. They closed with several selections from Mozart’s Don Giovanni: to their credit, orchestra, conductor, singers and choir did their best to emphasize every conceivably interesting turn in the melody or the arrangement, but ultimately these were exercises in futility. Only at the end, where Don Giovanni defiantly refuses to repudiate his misdeeds and is sent off to hell on the wings of some bitter minor-key swells, does the material rise above the level of schlock and that doesn’t make what comes before worth waiting through. Maybe you have to be a serious opera fan to “get it” – otherwise, it seemed completely buffo, a strange and ultimately unwanted contrast with the rich emotionality and sensitivity of the rest of the bill.

November 2, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews

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