Contemporary work adds spice to Firebird program

By Lawrence Budmen

Composer James Blachly's "Folk Dances for String Orchestra" was performed Thursday night by the Firebird Chamber Orchestra.

The strings of the Firebird Chamber Orchestra, the instrumental component of Seraphic Fire, presented the premiere of an appealing new score by a gifted young composer, coupled with repertoire staples by J.S. Bach and Grieg Thursday night at the intimate sanctuary of St. Christopher’s by the Sea in Key Biscayne.

Continuing the ensemble’s ongoing traversal of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, artistic director Patrick Dupre Quigley opened with an incisive performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No.6. Unique among Bach’s orchestral works for eschewing violins in favor of darker toned violas, cellos and bass, the concerto was presented in an intimately scaled reading with Quigley fielding six string players and harpsichord. Setting the dance related tone for all of the evening’s offerings, the opening movement of the Brandenburg was light on its feet. With veteran South Florida harpsichordist Bob Heath providing an imaginative realization of the continuo line, ensemble articulation was spot on, Quigley leading a tightly coordinated reading.

The Adagio was played as a stately Baroque aria with violist Doyle Armbrust providing finely burnished sound and emotive warmth in his extended solos. Quigley increased the energy level for the sprightly final Allegro, the music resounding with joyous verve.

In place of the originally scheduled third suite of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Quigley led the premiere of Folk Dances for String Orchestra by New York-based composer-conductor James Blachly. An extended reworking of three movements from Blachly’s String Quartet (2004), this suite is the work of a composer with a distinctive voice and sensibility. Strongly influenced by the music and dance of the Baltic states, Blachly mixes spiky modernism with folk-based dance forms, wrapped in luminous instrumental colors.

The opening English Pastorale begins with a severe introduction spotlighting the lower strings that morphs into a thrusting dance rhythm. Concertmaster Adda Kridler’s dazzling violin solo was a standout amidst the energetic string performance. A Macedonian Line Dance combined infectious rhythms with spicy dissonance. The Bulgarian Vodeno Horo made an invigorating finale, the hard-edged textures adding zest to the festivities. This splendidly crafted work is a tour de force for string ensembles and the thirteen Firebird players were in peak form. Blachly is clearly a talented composer whose work deserves attention.

Grieg’s familiar Holberg Suite mixes Baroque dance forms with Norwegian folk traditions. Quigley emphasized those nationalistic elements in a brilliantly played performances. Folksy turns of phrasing in the Sarabande and Gavotte and a gravely moving Air highlighted a strong reading that avoided any sense of routine. Rhythms were light and buoyant, ensemble lithe and precise. The dialogues between violins and violas were strongly delineated, the contrasting timbres an aural delight. In the final Rigaudon, Kridler channeled the panache and energy of a Norwegian country fiddler.

The Firebird Chamber Orchestra repeats the program 7:30 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables, 8 p.m. Saturday at Miami Beach Community Church and 4 p.m. Sunday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale. 305-285-9060,


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Fri Apr 15, 2011
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