Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The New York Scandia Symphony at Trinity Church, NYC 5/28/09

Thursday at Trinity Church conductor Dorrit Matson led the pioneering New York Scandia Symphony through a characteristically enlightening and exciting performance that left no doubt that the Scandinavian composers of the early classical era were just as substantial – and could be sometimes just as schlocky – as their counterparts a little further south. This program featured a trio of compositions drawing on Viennese School influences, and as is the custom with the Scandia, one piece was a US premiere and the other, C.E.F. Weyse’s Symphony No. 6, was making its New York debut, two hundred years after it was written.   

They opened with Kuhlau’s Robbers Castle Overture. This one you know even if you think you don’t – it’s the kind of piece WQXR plays right before the top of the hour. A blazing, heroic theme, it’s essentially a series of codas, one on top of the other, leaving barely room to breathe. But breathing room is what Matson gave it, enhancing the cleverness of what’s essentially a single, long crescendo. The US premiere, Gunnar Berg’s 1950 composition Hymnos (“That little violin piece,” as a member of the ensemble sardonically characterized it afterward) was a revelation. In the same vein as Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead, it’s a tone poem, striking, static and still, the orchestra bringing out every bit of unrelenting tension in its stark, Stravinskian ambience.

Johan Halvorsen’s Suite Ancienne works off a typical 19th century trope. With a few exceptions (notably Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances), lush orchestrations of old folk tunes often leave an uninspired impression, but not the way the Scandia opened this one, careening with a reckless, beery abandon that proved impossible to resist. The second and third segment are somewhat annoyingly jiggy in places, but to the orchestra’s credit, the boisterous cheer never let up and this paid off in the end when finally some wary intensity arrived in the form of a brief, recurring turnaround, stark in its contrast with the endless celebration all around. The Weyse was the closing number, working a simple, extremely straightforward and considerably effective chordal series building to a heroic theme with some striking textural appositions, horns against the strings. The Largo, which followed, was anything but, only backing off slightly from the majesty that would return with gusto as a big dance number in the third movement and conclude with lively exuberance and echoes of Vivaldi in the fourth. It’s the kind of piece that could easily open a Schubertiade bill.

Fans of brilliant obscurities (the Scandia dedicates itself to premiering works both old and new) are in for a treat, with members of the orchestra playing a series of free outdoor shows at Ft. Tryon Park in Washington Heights this June.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Center City Brass Quintet at Trinity Church, NYC 3/19/09

A dazzlingly innovative performance by old college friends representing at least three major symphony orchestras – Buffalo, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh – who come together occasionally to push the envelope. The Center City Brass Quintet are a brass ensemble that doesn’t blare: to say that the subtlety and sensitivity they bring to their music is virtually unknown might be obvious, but it’s true all the same. This is not an under-the-radar group – their recordings are popular, and rightfully so – but they don’t play live all that often. So yesterday’s show was something of a rare treat. The quintet – two trumpets, French horn, trombone and tuba – opened with their trumpeter Tony DiLorenzo’s Fire Dance, a smoothly crescendoing piece that builds off an eerie Balkan two-chord vamp: Bach goes to Bulgaria, maybe? They followed with two richly beautiful transcriptions of Bach organ works, a Fantasie with the tuba perfectly substituting for the low bass pedal, and the famous, darkly minor-key Contrapunctus IX maintaining a stately, powerfully ambient tone. With the added nuance and dynamics of five individual players, there was a special plaintiveness to the music. More brass bands should try this.


A quintet by British composer – and trumpet player – Malcolm Arnold (who wrote the Academy Award-winning score to Bridge Over the River Kwai) was next, warm and consonant through an allegro section driven by staccato tuba, then its chaconne section, an eerie dirge rising to a big crescendo. Its third movement moved swiftly and smoothly, the trumpets propelling it with fast arpeggiated triads, then perfectly executed melismas, all the way through to a strikingly quiet ending.


Another DiLorenzo composition, Go, was a showcase in cool freneticism, echoing Mingus with its scurrying polyrhythms and call-and-response between the highs and lows. By contrast, tuba composer and University of Wisconsin/Madison professor John Stevens’ Autumn (from his own Seasons suite) was a calm, somewhat nocturnal reflection. After an otherwise forgettable suite of Leonard Bernstein showtune arrangements, the group finally aired out the place with a joyous New Orleans march. It may be awhile before the group comes back to town, considering how busy the members are with their own individual gigs, but a return engagement will definitely be something to look forward to. In the meantime, since the church archives its concerts, you can watch this one in its entirety here.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment