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The Sounds of Infinite Surprise

New York
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
06/13/2008 -  

(i) Johann Sebastian Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major
(ii) Francesco Cavalli/Jacob Druckman: Delizie contente che l’aimie beate
(iii) Mauricio Kagel: East
(iv) Thomas Adès: Chamber Symphony
(v) Elliott Carter: Asko Concerto

(i) Ensemble ACJW, Robert Mealey (Ensemble Preparation), Pablo Heras-Casado (Conductor)
(ii) Erin Lesser (Flute) Winnie Lai (Oboe), Romie de Guise-Langlois (Clarinet), Seth Baer (Bassoon), Alan Vetger (Horn);
(iii) Romie d Guisee-Langlois (Clarinet), Anna Elashvili (Violin), Angela Cho (Violin), Brenton Caldwell (Viola), Julia MacLaine (Cello), Kristoffer Saebo (Bass) John Ostrowski (Percussion), Michael Mizrahi (Piano), Elizabeth Joy Roe (Harmonium), Janet Soldiviero (Conductor)
(iv-v) Ensemble ACJW, Pablo Heras-Casado (Conductor)

The acronym ACJW may stand for “Academy” “Carnegie Hall”, “Juilliard”, and “Weill Institute”, but it could just as well mean Artistic Challenges and Joyful Works. For these young players from around New York inevitably present programs which are original, challenging and always surprising.

On an early sunning evening in mid-town Manhattan, the 36-odd artists played in wind quintet (along with tape recorder), truncated orchestra and full groups works spanning four centuries. And in this diversity came a unity of utmost talent.

Most unexpectedly, they began with a work by Bach, the most original of the four suites for orchestra, bt with a sound which would have been familiar to J.S. himself. The important kettledrums were small, with more bang than resonance. The three trumpets were valveless and hit the high notes easily (two of them also had ornamental tassels, as they would have had for Duke who commissioned the work), and the small ensemble, standing, made a sound which—while not exactly velvety smooth—certainly echoed the burgeoning orchestral forces of Bach’s time.

True, the three oboes playing with strings gave off a clangy sound, but authenticity has its price. And the wonderful virtuoso bassoon playing by Seth Baer (repeated in other works) made up for that. The Spanish conductor Pable Heras-Casado offered the physical and musical energy.

Following this was a double-composition. Those of us who love Monteverdi also love Cavalli, his pupil, a man whose operas are still dramatic and lyrical. Jacob Druckman based several of his works on Cavalli during his life, and this one was fascinating. First, an arrangement for woodwind quintet of an aria, and next some outlandish “comments” by the same group, where measures were turned upside-down, whoops and whispers coming from the group. The reflection of Cavalli was like a dusty etching on a tcchnicolor wall. At 11 minutes, it was just the right “size” for Druckman’s mastery.

My own favorite was the most jocular, from that most jocular innovative composer Mauricio Kagel. Nobody ever knows what to expect from him, and East, based upon a train journey around Byelorussia, Romania and Ukraine, was a distorted and bouncy view of music from the Jewish shtelltls. Just as Fiddler On The Roof had Americanized klezmer music, Kagel took the bouncy sounds, the wailing clarinet, and the prickly strings and turned it into a gawky doppleganger but never a parody of this wonderful music.

After the intermission, the ensemble took two pieces which didn’t rely on other music, but were free-wheeling “traditional” forms. Thomas Adès was obviously as cocky and clever at the age of 19 as he is today, and this 15-minute work has as much invention as a work twice the length. Did I hear the three chords from Beethoven’s “Adieux” sonata played? Were the brilliant glissandi on the horns an homage to jazz? Whatever it was, the joyous mélange of quick crescendos, clever solos, constantly changing tempos and—ah, the world’s ugliest instrument, played by this writer—the accordion, made the piece totally original.

Finally, Elliott Carter. He wrote his Asko Concerto when he was middle-aged (today, months short of his centenary, he composed it at the age of 91!), and again, it was, in Carter’s terms, fairly light-hearted, Like a concerto grosso, the whole group played against some rather outrageous combinations. Here was a clarinet against a double-bass, a trumpet with violin, some whirling strings together, again, that fantastic bassoon soloist giving a most engaging bassoon solo.

After, one realized that this concert was not one to say “Oh, what talented musicians!” or “Oh, what fascinating music”. But, “What wonderful experiences even the most unfamiliar music can open, in our ears and our emotions”.

Harry Rolnick



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