Contemporary works come off best in mixed New World chamber program

By Lawrence Budmen

Bassoonist and New World Symphony alumna Rebekah Heller perfomed in Sunday’s NWS chamber program.

A Brahms masterpiece and four works from the 20th and 21st centuries were featured in dedicated, if not always successful, performances at the New World Symphony’s chamber music program Sunday afternoon at the New World Center in Miami Beach. NWS alum Rebekah Heller returned to host the concert’s first half and displayed impressive skill as bassoonist and conductor.

Heller, co-director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, joined four NWS fellows for Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Suite for Wind Quintet. Written for a competition, the 1952 opus is Seeger’s last completed work before her untimely death at age 52.  

Seeger was an innovative composer and the score’s textures and extended serialism pasted into a three-movement, ten-minute suite indicate her considerable creative imagination but the result tends toward mediocrity. Heller’s meaty tone and agility and oboist Tanavi Prabhu’s control and flexibility stood out in a well-gauged performance. They were joined by Leah Steven, flute, Juliana Darby, clarinet and Spencer Bay, horn.

Trombone growls, clarinet squeaks,  cello rumbles and keyboard clangs abound in Brazilian composer Fernanda Navarro’s Pathenegenesis (2012). While the jazzy riffs make for a diverting musical vaudeville, the noisy score is hardly one for the ages.

The prolific Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) wrote over two hundred works and the Polish composer’s music has been revived in recent years. In her Quintet for four violins (1949), Bartok meets neo-classical Stravinsky with Polish folk elements added to the heady musical stew. James Zabawa-Martinez’s violin sang with sterling tone in the sentimental nostalgia of the second movement Andante tranquillo. The dry textures and tense counterpoint of the concluding Molto allegro were given vigorous advocacy by Zhengdong Liang, Minglun Liu, Sophia Bernitz and Zabawa -Martinez.

British composer Hannah Kendall is a modern-day impressionist. Her sound palette creates huge glints of instrumental hues and timbres. (Earlier this season, the New World played Kendall’s orchestral showpiece The Spark Catchers.)

Kendall’s Verdala, written in 2018, refers to a ship that brought Caribbean men to England to fight a part of the British army in World War I. Thorny rhythms perk up the ears and Kendall’s vivid sense of instrumental detail and texture are strongly evident in this whirling, five-minute vignette. Heller’s crisp direction, sans baton, guided the fifteen players through the score’s intricacies, marshaling their energetic reading.

Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor is one of the great pillars of the chamber music repertoire. Five NWS members gave a well-rehearsed, lyrically flowing performance that remained mostly set to a low temperature. Excellent string articulation by violinists Michael Turkell and Natalie Lee, violist Marlea Simpson and cellist Chava Appiah and Wesley Ducote’s fluent pianism failed to probe beneath the music’s glowing surface. Their approach worked best in the Andante in which Ducote’s conscientious musicality integrated to fine effect with the warmth of string sonorities. Despite fine individual contributions, the final two movements needed more incisive energy and abandon. 

New World Symphony members play George Walker’s Music for Brass, Lansing McClosky’s Specific Gravity 272 and Schubert’s Octet  2 p.m. May 1 at the New World Center in Miami Beach.

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Mon Mar 21, 2022
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