New World Symphony shines with five string soloists in eclectic program

By Devin Cholodenko

Randall Goosby performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the New World Symphony Friday night. Photo: Gregory Reed

Conductor Nicholas Collon led the New World Symphony in a varied concert Friday evening in Miami Beach at New World Center.

The program took its title from Absolute Jest, John Adams’ work. Also featured was soloist Randall Goosby in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with Gabriela Ortiz’s Antrópolis, and Ravel’s La Valse opening and closing the night.

Adams’ Absolute Jest is a symphonic invention on fragments and musical quotes from the late quartets of Beethoven, scored for the not-so-common combination of string quartet and orchestra. Principals of the New York Philharmonic made up the quartet: Frank Huang, Qianqian Li, Cynthia Phelps, and Carter Brey. 

The motivic materials used in the construction of Absolute Jest are essentially collaged together, so chopped up that Beethoven’s musical grammar is obliterated. And since Adams doesn’t provide much of his own musical grammar to the mixture, one has the sense of hearing familiar words and phrases in sentences that make no collective sense. 

There are brief sections where Adams’ processing of Beethoven’s materials to create direction or climax, are more effective. Specifically those that drew on the Grosse Fuge and the vivace movement of Quartet No. 16, op. 135, where the former is made thrilling by the brass entries, and the latter by the vivacity of New World’s upper strings.

Adams said that the word “jest” in the title is to be taken less as joke and more in terms of its Latin root, gesta, meaning deeds or exploits—ostensibly his own deeds in constructing the work. Even so, the joke is on the audience with 25 minutes of musical elusiveness.

The New World Symphony provided a precise and energetic accompaniment to the crisp and animated playing of the New York Philharmonic principals. (The quartet was amplified, as called for in the score, which solved any issues of balancing.) Still, even the most polished and exciting musicianship, which were very much on display, can’t save a work from itself.

The evening opened with the pulsing dance rhythms of Gabriela Ortiz’s Antrópolis, expertly managed by NWS conducting fellow Chad Goodman. The work explores the identities of Latin American cities through their respective dances and dance clubs, known in Mexico as antos. As in other works, Ortiz adeptly synthesizes her cultural roots with a classical avant-garde language. Formally held together by three robust timpani solos, the work was fueled by and successful especially due to New World’s rhythmically tight and lively percussion section.

Originally rejected by violinist Leopold Auer, who deemed the work unplayable, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto it is now one of the most played concerto, and tackled by advanced conservatory students.

Soloist Randall Goosby displayed comprehensive technical ability  in his performance Friday night. His work in the uppermost registers of the violin, both in lyrical and virtuosic passages, was at once beautiful, evocative, and sonorous. 

His uniformly passionate approach to expression, while generally effective, began to felt less nuanced as the work continued through the second and third movements.

Conductor Collon led from the podium in a manner too subdued and metronomic for Tchaikovsky’s music. Where a conductor should foster the link between soloist and orchestra, Collon conducted to a single entity, thwarting passages where the orchestra provides a light accompaniment to the soloist’s technical fireworks. Despite this, the orchestra’s tutti passages were often thrilling, embracing Tchaikovsky’s lush orchestration.

Ravel’s La Valse provided a frenetic coda to the evening. The work, inspired by Viennese waltz as seen through the eyes of a post-World War 1 French perspective, is at times elegant, sensuous, and raucous—all elements were very much reflected in the performance. 

Collon’s conducting here was well-suited to the task, capturing the nuanced perspective embedded in the music, while still allowing the bombastic moments their due. The New World Symphony was once again thrilling, capturing all the color of the score, from brassy French horn to the lush string passages.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at New World Center in Miami Beach.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Sat Feb 18, 2023
at 2:45 pm
No Comments