Nu Deco wraps the season with a typically eclectic mix

By Lawrence Budmen

Jacomo Bairos

Jacomo Bairos conducted the Nu Deco Ensemble Thursday night at The Light Box in Wynwood.

Nu Deco Ensemble returned to its home turf at The Light Box in Wynwood on Thursday night to conclude the season with a world premiere, some intriguing contemporary works and a performance by a thespian-composer. This orchestra has an enthusiastic following and, despite continually inclement weather, a full house was on hand.

Colors of the Walking Earth by Christopher Weiss is one of those fast-and-furious openers that conductors tend to program as warmup pieces. Written when the composer was only 20 years old, the score’s busy thematic fragments are leavened by a secondary subject right out of the Americana soundscape of Copland and John Williams. The luster of the well-drilled string section and Kevin Lyons’ pealing trumpet solo were buttressed by conductor Jacomo Bairos’  deft balancing. 

These Broken Wings by David Lang is a chamber work, scored for piano, violin, clarinet, flute and percussion. The “Learn to Fly” excerpt offers a bristling vignette mixing repetitive minimalism with some Caribbean seasoning via mallet percussion. Lang mixes instrumental timbres with ingenuity, and this work never follows a clear path, constantly surprising the listener with new incidents and progressions. 

Maria Zdralea played the opening piano ostinati incisively and flutist/piccolo Daniel Velasco and clarinetist Anna Brumbaugh traced Lang’s wind figures with darting energy. Guest concertmaster Siwoo Kim was a standout in an extended bravura violin solo. Lang’s writing for vibraphone adds spice to the musical recipe and Elizabeth Van Witt managed to keep pace while playing that instrument as well as drumming, at times simultaneously.

Steel pan player Andy Akiho’s Karakurenai is a flexible score that can be performed with any number of musicians from a duo to a large instrumental complement. Bairos fielded sixteen players for this edgy opus in which there is much room for improvisation along the way. Following initial rain forest sounds, a rhythmic groove takes off. Aaron Lebos’s guitar, Dale Posey’s electric bass and a hard-hitting percussion section kept that drive going throughout this appealing rock-infused work.

Composer Nicholas Omiccioli describes his Push/Pull–heard in its world premiere–as “refined heavy metal.” A faculty member of Young Siew Conservatory at the National University of Singapore, Omiccioli has crafted a highly charged essay in which the strings form the main rhythmic impetus. As in much heavy metal, ominous underpinnings suggest darkness beneath the rapid episodic shifts. This ten-minute diversion is a clear crowd pleaser and the composer was roundly cheered by the youthful listeners.

Following intermission, actor-vocalist-songwriter Luke James took the stage. The New Orleans native, currently a member of the ensemble cast of the Fox television series Star, is a charismatic, modern-age crooner. James skillfully utilized vocal falsetto in his initial song “Drip.” His smooth pop styling came to the fore with the ballad “Strawberry Vapors.”  “Prototype” (by OutKast ) sounded almost improvisatory in James’ dramatic tones. 

James said that he wrote “These Arms” only a week ago and was singing it for the first time and that it would be his next recorded single. Almost an old-fashioned 1960’s tune, it proved to be a strong closer to his set. Co-artistic director Sam Hyken’s arrangements were wonderfully creative with string writing as vibrant as the rhythm section. 

Nu Deco concerts usually conclude with one of Hyken’s medleys of a rock band’s songbook. For this program he turned farther afield to the hip hop group OutKast. In his pre-performance remarks, Hyken noted that OutKast adds jazz and R&B to its rap formula and, indeed, his arrangement reflected those genres. 

Unlike most tepid fusions of rock and symphonic music, Hyken continually creates ear-catching instrumental combinations and effects. Lyons’ trumpet solo was hot and jazzy, while a rap recitation by percussionist Nabedi Osorio seemed like more of a gimmick thrown in to remind everyone that this was hip hop after all. OutKast’s version of Richard Rodgers’ “My Favorite Things” featured terrific electronic keyboard riffs by Jason Matthews. The strings’ spot-on articulation took the lead for the rocking finale fusing the band’s You May Die” and “The Whole World.”

Bairos and Hyken announced that there will be four concerts at The Light Box next season, including an evening devoted to the works of female composers and a sequel to last season’s memorable Global Cuban Fest concert. The orchestra will also record its first album in June. Bairos noted that the suite from Copland’s ballet Billy the Kid will be among the repertoire played next season.

That is the type of longer work this talented ensemble should be tackling as well as more expansive new scores. Classical soloists as well as pop artists should share the ensemble’s bill of fare. It is time to expand both the orchestra’s and its audience’s artistic horizons.

Nu Deco Ensemble repeats the program 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at The Light Box in Wynwood.; 305-702-0116

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Fri May 18, 2018
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