High Energy and World Premieres from the American Composers Orchestra
American Composers Orchestra honcho Michael Geller has gone on record as saying that producing good concerts isn’t the organization’s main focus: they’re more of a vehicle for new composers to develop fungible, orchestra-ready repertoire. That’s a hefty agenda, but along the way the ACO manages to put out albums and play concerts that are often spectacularly entertaining, not just because of the diversity of the composers whose work they thrash into shape. Carnegie Hall last night was a launching pad for some of that: two world premieres, an American premiere and a familiar crowd-pleaser from an earlier era conducted robustly by guest Jose Serebrier.
Narong Prangcharoen’s The Migration of Lost Souls, inspired by the temple bell music of his native Thailand opened the show dramatically and intensely, essentially a suspenseful, serialistic tone poem punctuated by breathless, often terrorized bursts of agitation. Sepulchral washes of airy strings built to bustling, rapidfire cascades, often utilizing the entire orchestra but also making vivid use of the xylophone to mimic the lickety-split phrasing of northern Thai mor lan music. The carnival of souls finally found peace at the end in the gamelan-like resonance of bells and a boomy bass gong.
Milica Paranosic’s The Tiger’s Wife: Prologue, utilizing texts from the popular Tea Obreht novel, went for similar dramatics with mixed results. It’s a powerful and vivid piece of music, a diptych of sorts, beginning with a tense, niftily orchestrated, suspensefully rhythmic tone poem and ending with a blazing, gypsy-tinged overture. Unfortunately, an inspired performance by the orchestra threatened to be subsumed in a deluge of bells and whistles. Singer Lori Cotler delivered the lyrics with an aptly biting edge, but a lot of that got lost in a tumble of south Indian takadimi drum language. It’s a device she employs with spectacular dexterity and not a little wit in a radically different context, as part of the playful Takadimi Duo. But all the diggity-doo was as out of place here as rosewater on a burek – or in more prosaic terms, like ketchup on ice cream. There were also electronics, which added nothing: Cotler’s vocals were strong, and the orchestra was going full force. Meanwhile, a high-definition vacation video of sorts played on a screen overhead and proved far less interesting than the orchestra. Was this an attempt to connect with a youtube generation that ostensibly can’t relate to anything without visuals? In terms the youtube generation knows well: epic fail.
Some of Charles Ives’ work was paradigm-shifting; his Symphony No. 3 wasn’t. But this performance was hardly boring, the orchestra taking a briskly energetic, sometimes even romping journey through its often folksy “Camp Meeting” cinematics. The boisterous, rhythmic energy wound up with the American premiere of the conductor’s Flute Concerto with Tango. Its tango rhythm is syncopated bracingly in the beginning – it’s missing the heavy, defining third beat – so a recognizable tango per se doesn’t appear until the concluding movement. Along the way, flutist Sharon Bezaly negotiated thicket after thicket of knotty, lickety-split rivulets and a long, taqsim-like, mostly solo interlude on alto flute, all the way through to a dancing coda.
Not only do the ACO premiere their composers’ works, they also workshop them live, which can be a treat to witness for serious listeners and students of the style. The next one is at Mannes College Auditorium on the upper west side on Nov 13 at 2 PM.
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