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They also sing (sort of)

Koerner Hall
11/05/2010 -  
Béla Bartók: Divertimento for String Orchestra, BB118
Robert Schumann: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (orig, for cello) in A Minor, Op. 129
Raminta Serksnyte: De Profundis for string orchestra
Franz Schubert: Minuet in D Minor from D.89
Arvo Pärt: Passacaglia
Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer: After Glenn Gould
Astor Piazzolla: Melodia in A Minor – Fuga

Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Kremerata Baltica

Kremerata Baltica (Courtesy of the Royal Conservatory, Toronto)

Twenty-eight cities in 11 countries in two months – that’s the Kremeratica Baltica’s current tour, and Toronto was city number 23. Happily there was nothing travel-worn or routine in the performance.

Gidon Kremer founded this string orchestra in 1997. “Baltica” refers to the three Baltic countries that re-achieved independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union. “Kremerata” is a neologism combining “Kremer” with “camerata”, a term referring back to the Florentine Camerata of the late 1500s, an aristicratic salon/think tank that set the terms for the invention of opera among other artistic trends. (There is also a noted Swiss chamber orchestra, the Camerata Bern.)

Like several chamber orchestras, the 24-member ensemble performs without a conductor. For pieces with no solo violin part (when Gidon Kremer himself assumes the “leader” role), the first violinist signals the start of the work, but little else as it progresses. Eva Bindere was the leader for the first pieces, Bartok’s Divertimento for String Orchestra, composed in 1939. The performance was as taut and buoyant as one would wish, and this is not a simple piece to negotiate.

The second piece was Schumann’s Cello Concerto in a version for violin and strings by French composer René Koering. It is not a bravura concerto; the solo part is pretty firmly embedded withn the overall texture of the instrumentation. Kremer took over the leader’s role and, as in the first piece, signals to the ensemble were minimal. This violin version actually works very well - at least for this group in the excellent acoustic of Koerner Hall.

The second half of the program was given the name of the orchestra’s latest recording, De Profundis, and consisted of several works from it. Violinist Dzeraldas Bidva took over the leadership role. The first piece was De Profundis for string orchestra by Lithuanian composer Raminta Serksnyte. It is reminiscent of Arvo Pärt, which is not surprising given his influence in recent decades (it was composed in 1998 when the composer was 23). She is regarded as a neo-romantic composer which doesn’t mean the work is simply a warm wash of sound – it has its snappy moments.

Gidon Kremer rejoined the orchestra for the rest of the works. Franz Schubert’s Minuet in D Minor is surprisingly solemn for a minuet which I suppose why it is included in a program with the De profundis (“from the depths”) theme.

Next was Arvo Pärt’s Passacaglia, composed in 2007 and dedicated to Kremer and the orchestra. The orchestra’s single non-string player is percussionist Andrei Pushkarev and Pärt’s piece includes a vibraphone part, giving the work a distinctive timbre. It ends with a brief, surprising klezmeresque passage for the solo violin.

Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer’s After Glenn Gould was composed this year and is also dedicated to Kremer and the orchestra. It contains passages from Bach’s Goldberg Variations (surely Gould’s most famous recording) orchestrated à la Respighi of Ancient Airs and Dances, interpersed with spikier passages reminiscent of Stravinsky in his Pulcinella period. The effect is that of a stimulating post-modernist collage (which would no doubt have amused Gould). (In researching Tickmeyer, I see he has a CD entitled Repetitive Selection Removel of One Protecting Group. I have no idea of what this can mean.)

Two contrasting works by Astor Piazzolla (whose name appears with increasing frequency on concert programs) ended the program. Melodia in A Minor for violin and orchestra is a rather lush, introverted piece, while Fuga (with the vibraphone brought to the front of the stage) is a near-riot, with the string instruments used percussively.

We were treated to two contrasting encores. The first was music by Nino Rota from the film La dolce vita. The second turned out to be a vocal work (yes, vocal). Ernst Toch (Austrian-born, then American) composed his Geographical Fugue in 1930 for “spoken chorus” (shouting chorus is more accurate). The original words use place names in a whimsical fashion. The Kremerata Baltica version seems to be about the music industry – I heard the word “gramophone” several times.

I recall hearing Gidon Kremer when he was a big new name on the scene (after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970). It’s nice to report that his playing is still seriously good. His close rapport with the orchestra is also a joy to behold.

Let’s hope Toronto is included in future Kremerata Baltica tours.

Michael Johnson



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