Nu Deco and Dranoff 2 Piano shake things up at New World Center
Merely two years since its debut, the Nu Deco Ensemble has established an original identity as a 21st-century orchestra presenting genre-bending repertoire.
Pairing up with the recent winners of the Dranoff International 2 Piano Competition, Duo Yoo + Kim, added a new dimension to the ensemble’s versatile take on programming. Conductor and cofounder of Nu Deco, Jacomo Bairos, expressed his excitement for the opportunity to “shake things up” Sunday night at New World Center.
The assortment of musical choices was as diverse as the age range of the audience members. Listeners were taken on a “snapshot” journey through the works of Bach, Rachmaninoff, Montgomery, Sixten, Radiohead, Reich, and Zappa.
The program opened with Sam Hyken’s Latin-flavored arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. The brief solemn introduction swiftly broke into a syncopated Mambo rhythm, where the balance between percussion and strings could have used more fine-tuning. However, the genre-crossing arrangement proved a crowd pleaser for the Miami audience and Hyken’s rendition surely delivered, leading the listeners to sway with the beat.
Duo Yoo + Kim explored the rich textures of Rachmaninoff’s piano writing in the first movement of his Symphonic Dances, moving and breathing together like one person. The duo-pianists’ wise voicing and articulation decisions, paired with beautiful layering of dynamics and timbres, produced an overall successful performance.
Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst for string ensemble showcased Bairos’ brisk gestures and the composer’s pop-influenced esthetic. She is a violinist herself and her writing for strings is quite idiomatic and fitting to the expressive possibilities of the string instruments. Besides a few rocky moments pitch-wise in the violins, the playing exhibited a good balance of dynamics and phrasing.
The first half ended with the recently premiered Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra by Swedish composer Frederik Sixten.
A condensed, multilayered musical experimentation of familiar techniques and harmonies, this concerto in three movements showcased the dialogue between the two pianos while the orchestra questioned and supported them. Sixten’s composition had moments reminiscent of Rachmaninov’s expansive lush textures, percussive elements similar to Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, and even something of the sad yet sensual Adagio of Ravel’s G Major concerto. Three recurring short themes lead the composition through a myriad of mood changes. The underlying dark quality was balanced by the fleeting scherzando sections.
Yoo + Kim attacked the composition with great determination in its virtuosic and robust parts, and with elegance and poise in the more intimate ones. Bairos’ attentive conducting brought the score to a unified musical expression.
The second half displayed the orchestra at its best. Hyken’s creative arrangements of two Radiohead songs reinstated the mood and smoothly connected to Steve Reich’s Radio Rewrite, which draws inspiration from them. Downsizing to a chamber setting of 11 players, Nu Deco and Yoo + Kim created a fabric of sound that was both hypnotic and charming.
The fertile, comical, virtuosic, and imaginative compositional world of Frank Zappa was the perfect way to end this program. Suite from The Yellow Shark explored three selections from this album. “Dog Breath/Uncle Meat” highlighted the exceptional playing in the tight unisons of the woodwind and brass sections. “Outrage at Valdez” vividly depicted the arid landscapes of Alaska. Here Bairos filled the space with extended slow movements. “G-Spot Tornado,” a perpetual “tour de virtuosité,” proved to be a show-stopper. Nu Deco lived up to the relentlessly manic score. Kudos to the brass and percussion sections for driving the energy all the way to the end. “Peaches en Regalia,” closed the program with a grotesque jazz fusion.
Zappa’s music exemplifies what Nu Deco’s programming is about; eclectic, versatile, daring, boundary-stretching, and entertaining. The standing ovation was acknowledged with a fizzy and energetic encore, Hyken’s arrangement of Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic.”
The next performance of Nu Deco Ensemble is February 16 at the North Beach Band Shell. nu-deco.org
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Mon Jan 16, 2017
at 1:26 pm