New World closes chamber season with contemporary works and a Schubert classic

By Lawrence Budmen

Sharon Robinson performed with New World Symphony members in Sunday's chamber music season finale.

Sharon Robinson performed with New World Symphony members in Sunday’s chamber music season finale. Photo: Christian Steiner

Contemporary minimalism shared space with a Viennese masterpiece at the New World Symphony’s final chamber music concert of the season Sunday afternoon at the New World Center in Miami Beach. 

The six players who performed The Light Within by John Luther Adams were all wired with earpieces through which they listened and blended with electronics. A sense of calm stasis pervades the opening repetitive motifs. After about three or four minutes, the work tended to run off the rails as the lack of forward motion suggested the score was longer than its 12-minute duration. The playback loops tended to neutralize the live sound of some of the instruments, with the flute and violin difficult to differentiate. Only Zach Manzi’s mellow bass clarinet came through distinctively. 

Adams’ work would make a great background to a minimalist art exhibit or to a video of the colors of the sky as day gives way to dusk and night (which the composer has stated was his original inspiration). This was one occasion when utilization of the hall’s multimedia resources would have been welcome. All credit to Manzi, violinist Kenneth Liao, cellist Michael Frigo, flutist Elizabeth Lu, pianist Thomas Steigerwald and percussionist Joseph Kelly for an astutely balanced, well played performance.

Michael Torke’s pop-influenced Adjustable Wrench turns its 16-member ensemble into a classical dance band. Torke divides the players into three groups, each combined with a keyboard (piano, synthesizer, marimba).

As in his color-oriented pieces (Ecstatic Orange, Bright Blue Music), the pulsating rhythms and instrumental colors keep Torke’s discourse on track. The layered textures of the string, brass and wind contingents are subtly combined and contrasted.  The work is usually performed with a conductor. Working without one, the New World musicians impressively maintained rhythmic exactitude. Aaron Norland and Ansel Noris’ trumpet riffs and Nick Castellano’s jazzy horn solo took special honors in a brilliantly crafted traversal.

Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major is the composer’s final great chamber score, written in a burst of feverish creativity in the last two months of the composer’s life. Cellist Sharon Robinson joined four of the orchestral academy’s players in an outstanding reading of this musical swan song. 

A veteran soloist and chamber player (particularly with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio), Robinson had clearly coached and rehearsed her young colleagues thoroughly. With Robinson taking the second cello part, balances were near perfect and there was both precision and thrust from the first notes to the final chords.

In the spacious opening movement, violinists Rachel Sandman and Dillon Welch’s displayed robust articulation and an edgy touch. The secondary subject began in an unhurried manner and gradually grew in volume and intensity, enveloping the ensemble. Jessica Pasternak’s rich viola finely underlined the violins’ melodic paths. 

The Adagio may be one of the most moving creations in the entire musical canon. Sandman’s first statement of the principal theme was almost vocal in its clean, singing line. Beautiful detailing of every instrumental role enhanced the atmosphere of rapt intensity. There was stormy fervor in the contrasting agitation of the central episode. With the reprise of the initial melody, Robinson and Jennifer Choi drew out the dark cello ruminations beneath the upper strings.

The sharp attack and brisk clip of the Scherzo brought out the rustic dance threads, albeit in a Viennese manner. Robinson displayed her golden tone in the solo that introduces the movement’s trio section. A festive spark pervaded the final Allegretto with a touch of gypsy flavoring. The coda was given extra energy and lift, making those final chords all the more shocking and effective. 

A lengthy standing ovation brought the players back for repeated bows, concluding a strong season of chamber music collaborations.

The New World Symphony season concludes with Dean Whiteside leading Ligeti’s Lontano and Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 at 8 p.m. May 5 and 2 p.m. May 6 at the New World Center in Miami Beach.; 305-673-3331

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Mon Apr 23, 2018
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