American, English chamber works open New World’s virtual season in style

By Lawrence A. Johnson

New World members performed Charles Wuorinen’s Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano Sunday afternoon at New World Center.

The New World Symphony has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic with the same wary caution and game resourcefulness as many professional orchestral ensembles across the country. While the Miami Beach training orchestra is going all-virtual through the end of this year with all performances streaming online, it has left 2021 events open in the hope that the health landscape will look brighter next year.  

As is tradition, New World opened its season Sunday afternoon with the first chamber program of the fall, performed at New World Center. As per current public-health dictates, all performers—except for the single brass musician—wore masks and the program was kept to 45 minutes, half the standard length.

It was a nice gesture to open the program with music of Charles Wuorinen, who passed away in March at age 81.

Strongly influenced by 12-tone music, Wuorinen is sometimes still lumped with the arid academic atonalists of the “I don’t care if you listen” persuasion. But the serial label is not stylistically accurate—as the composer often complained—nor fair to his music, which at its best has a surging vitality and a quirky brilliance rewarding for musicians and audiences alike.

Wuorinen wrote his Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano in 1981 on a commission from Julie Landsman who would go on to become principal horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, a position she held for 25 years. 

Landsman requested a virtuosic showpiece and that’s what she largely got with this 11-minute work, which segues from horn squawks at the opening to a thorny brilliance with passing moments of introspective stillness.

The horn part is primus inter pares in this trio. Hornist Jessica Elder handled the restless virtuosic writing with understated yet fluent bravura, while bringing a poised legato to the contrasting inward passages. Her New World colleagues—pianist Wesley Ducote and violinist Katherine Kobylarz—were fully simpatico partners, entering into Wuorinen’s brand of high-adrenaline vigor while bringing a lovely quiet glow to the coda.

The direction, editing and video quality were first class, often finding up close and striking camera angles and avoiding the standard balcony-seat perspective.

English composers of the 20th century tend to be nearly as neglected as 20th-century American composers, but happily not at New World with William Walton’s Piano Quartet closing the short program

As cellist Benjamin Fryxell pointed out in his engaging introduction, Walton wrote his Piano Quartet at age 16 and while he revised it twice, the composer retained affection for this early work. 

Walton’s Piano Quartet closed Sunday’s chamber program.

It’s not hard to see why as demonstrated in the New World members’ richly sympathetic performance. Walton’s quartet is an epic work, sprawling nearly a half-hour and cast in a ripely Romantic idiom. 

A brief slow introduction leads into the opening movement’s soaring main theme. Violinists Dillon Welch and Spencer Ingersoll, cellist Fryzell and pianist Ducote were fully in synch with the rhapsodic qualities of the opening movement. The ensuing Scherzando put across the buoyant energy as well as the striding middle section.

The heart of Walton’s youthful work is the Andante tranquillo and this intimate reverie was rendered with rapt tenderness by the four musicians, Welch particularly. Cellist Fryxell’s sensitive rendering of his solo was comparably affecting. The emphatic confidence of the finale sealed the performance, ebb and flow charted surely and the jazzy syncopations of the closing section given full vigor.

Video direction here was fractionally less deft, especially in the early going where the images too often missed the player with the leading musical line.

Composer John Adams leads the New World Symphony in a streamed program 7:30 p.m. Saturday, featuring Adams’ Shaker Loops and Hallelujah Junction along with music of Carlos Simon and Marcos Balter.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Mon Nov 2, 2020
at 1:12 pm
No Comments