A Characteristically Vivid Greenwich Village Orchestra Concert
Who’s the best symphony orchestra in the world? Most orchestral players will quickly suggest the Berlin Philharmonic. And pretty much everybody agrees that the Mariinsky Orchestra makes the best albums. But talk to someone who sees a lot of concerts, even a cranky critic, and they’ll tell you without hesitating that a performance by a lesser-known orchestra can be every bit as amazing as one by a brand-name ensemble. While the Greenwich Village Orchestra‘s neighborhood has changed vastly over the past fifteen years, they haven’t. They’re oldschool, in an edgy East Village sense, premiering new works, showcasing up-and-coming soloists before the big orchestras get hip to them, and trotting out spirited versions of old standards. This Sunday’s concert was typical.
With Barbara Yahr on the podium, they began with the world premiere of the new orchestral version of Israeli composer Moshe Zorman’s Galilean Suite. It opened with an easygoing, easy-to-like overture on a biting Yemeni folk tune and ended with an acerbically modernist take on the traditional Jewish hora dance, which in this case was completely free of schmaltz, conductor and ensemble clearly having a ball with it. In between, there was a circular, Reichian theme that seemed to holler “I can write indie classical too,” and this particular one happens to be overwritten and overwrought. Half the group, or maybe the string section alone, would have sufficed. The orchestra did with it what they could, but even the energetic percussion features were simplistic and beside the point. Memo to other orchestras: do this as a diptych and crowds will love you for it.
The crowd went crazy, giving featured violinist Itamar Zorman (Moshe’s kid) two impromptu ovations for the first couple of movements of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The GVO discovered him four years before he won the 2011 Tschaikovsky Violin Competition in Russia. Much as every orchestra plays this warhorse, it’s cruelly difficult for a soloist, but with a spun-glass legato matched to a searing, rapidfire attack, Zorman made it look easy. Having seen another orchestra recently having to suffer backing another violinist who was not up to the challenge, this was all the more rewarding. And while it’s the famously aleatoric violin parts (Brahms let his violinist pal Joseph Joachim come up with the famous final cadenzas) that the crowds come out to see, this was done as classic, luminous, pilllowy, hard-to-resist, peak-era Brahms, complete with vivid cameos from oboeist Shannon Bryant and harpist Andre Tarantiles.
Also on the bill was Tschaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. The story may be Italian, but this emotionally raw, minutely detailed performance left no doubt that it was written by a Slavic composer, its wounded wintriness evoking the chill of snowflakes drifting under the door. Maybe it was the gloomy day outside; more likely, Yahr sought to portray the sadness that lept out from the mournful, introductory brass and winds and signaled that while this might end energetically, the story was not a happy one. Again, having seen another orchestra play a perfectly satisfying, lushly Mahlerian version (isn’t it amazing how differently orchestras play this same repertoire?), this hit a lot harder, emotionally speaking. Then again, that’s the GVO in a nutshell. Their next concert is their very fun, lively annual family concert – where kids get in free, and can march behind the orchestra – plus an “instrument petting zoo,”plus reception afterward, on Sunday, Dec 8 at 3 PM featuring music of Rossini, Beethoven, Ravel and more at Washington Irving HS Auditorium, 40 Irving Place at 17th St.. just off Union Square.
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