Monday, July 30, 2012

Three 21st Century Works Heard at the Colorado Music Festival

Featuring three 21st century works by Stephen Hartke, Christopher Theofanidis, and Aaron Jay Kernis at last night's concert, conductor Michael Christie continued his mission of having the Colorado Music Festival perform new music.

In the mid-2000s, New York's Orpheus Chamber Orchestra commissioned six composers to create pieces, each based on one of Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos and their instrumentation.

We first heard Hartke's "A Brandenburg Autumn," composed in Germany not far from where the Bach dedicatee once lived. The conservative work was well written for the ensemble (reduced from the original instrumentation of the first Brandenburg), offering some rhythmic interest through much of the piece.

Next was Theofanidis's "Muse," which drew on the instrumentation of the third Brandenberg (3 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, backed by a bass and keyboard continuo), augmented by additional violins. The straightforward, vitality-infused piece was well played and clearly appealed to the audience.

The final work, Kernis's "Concerto With Echoes," was easily the most distinctive of the three new works. On the surface, there seemed to be no close connection to the 6th Brandenburg that served as the work's starting point (except for the related instrumentation sans violins), and this actually affirmed that we were hearing from a composer with something to say, a piece that works on its own. The father of twins, Kernis was inspired by the 6th Brandenburg's "opening passage with two spiraling solo violas, like identical twins following each other through a hall of mirrors." The work is suffused with echoes, mirrored melodies, and other imitative orderings. Kernis avoided the strong rhythmic pulse which might as first seem so natural in this context. He also had the confidence to end the work quietly, the only piece of the evening to do so.

The three new works were each preceded by their Brandenburg counterparts, a logical line-up apparently heard here for the first time.

The original Brandenburgs served to remind us that life on occasion offers moments of wonder and joy.

The concert was also a timely reminder that, later this week, CMF will premiere a work by Daniel Kellogg, commissioned by CMF's unique Click program.

Added note: the tendency towards more and more standing ovations in concerts continues to grow, making them less and less meaningful.