GardenMusic Festival offers an eclectic opening program

By Lawrence Budmen

Teddy Abrams, a former conducting fellow of the New World Symphony, founded the GardenMusic Festival, which opened Thursday night.

Teddy Abrams, a former conducting fellow of the New World Symphony, founded the GardenMusic Festival, which opened Thursday night.

The GardenMusic Festival opened Thursday night beneath a tent amid the lush greenery of Fairchild Tropical Garden with classical standards and works strongly influenced by pop music sharing the spotlight.

The musical brainchild of Teddy Abrams, former New World Symphony conducting fellow and currently assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony and music director-designate of the Louisville Orchestra, this second year of the festival features a group of gifted young musicians, including winners of major competitions and graduates of top conservatories.

Several of the new pieces were updates of jazz and classical chestnuts. Abrams’ Rock offered a Dave Brubeck-inflected tune in rock rhythm with terrific clarinet playing by Johnny Teyssier, who displayed agility over wide-ranging leaps between registers. Harrison Hollingsworth’s I Sing turns a hymnlike melody into a jazz groove, buttressed by Teyssier’s klezmer clarinet.

Violinist Johannes Dickbauer’s Treffpunkt 7 presented a 21st-century version of a Fritz Kreisler vignette with a touch of jazz fiddling. Abrams provided brilliant keyboard support for his fellow players and Gabriel Globus-Hoenich was a dynamo on percussion trap set.

Turning to pop styles the entire ensemble offered a swinging version of Mumford and Sons’ Hopeless Wanderer. Violinist Jeremy Kittel, a former member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, offered his Fields of Brooklyn and The Castle Light, setting a contemporary beat to traditional styled Irish and Scottish fiddle tunes with clarinet and guitar as rhythm section. Kittel’s bravura performance was one of the evening’s highlights, particularly in the final hoedown.

Still the players shone most impressively in the traditional classical scores. Despite violinist Lily Francis’ strong leadership, the first movement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”) lacked subtlety. Francis channeled the plaintive yearning of Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 2, her gypsy slides between notes idiomatic. Julio Elizalde was her virtuossic keyboard partner.

In a solo set, Elizalde offered a sensitive account of Grieg’s Butterfly and a whirlwind Flight of the Bumble Bee, assayed with accuracy and spirit. Cellist Gal Nyska soloed in a graceful and straightforward Gigue from Bach’s Suite No. 3.

Hummingbirds by the festival’s resident composer Sebastian Chang was an impressionistic essay for clarinet, viola and piano. The composer was at the Yamaha with mellow-toned playing from Teyssier and violist Emily Deans.

The Rondo alla Zingarese from Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor provided a fiery finale. Elizalde, Francis, Deans and Nyska brought weight and edgy tension to this Hungarian dance pastiche. Their ensemble playing was so finely integrated and subtly inflected that one could only regret they did not play the entire Brahms score.

The GardenMusic Festival continues 7 p.m. Saturday at Fairchild Tropical Garden. 305-667-1651

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Fri Jan 10, 2014
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