So, where in Raleigh do you go to hear interesting modern music well played? You go to hear the Raleigh Civic Symphony, in one of its configurations, at NC State, of course. This was exactly what the smallish-sized audience (made up largely of students, probably in attendance to fulfill a course requirement) heard on October 9 when the Chamber Orchestra took us on a trip to Latin America in the Talley Student Center Ballroom.
The first half of the program was devoted to two works by Silvestre Revueltas, the Mexican composer whose most famous work, Sensamayá, was heard just last weekend with the NC Symphony under the baton of guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. At NCSU, the opener was "Ocho por Radio" ("Eight on the Radio") for eight musicians (two violins, cello, bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, and percussion), a piece filled with juxtapositions of meters as well as source traditions. Music Director and Conductor Randolph Foy told the audience in his customary scholarly, but in no way stuffy, oral comments that Revueltas apparently found the idea for the piece by switching radio stations rapidly one evening just to see what was on the air. The work presents snippets or snatches of different styles of indigenous music and imported musical traditions, with Stravinsky-esque textures. Revueltas did not quote this source material in the way Copland or his own compatriot Chavez did, but incorporated it so naturally into his being that his works sound like but are not truly folk melodies in the way many of Bartók's do.
Foy described the second Revueltas work, "Alcancias" ("Piggy Banks"), as a "wild ride." Its three movements, too, are filled with juxtapositions of the tragic and the comic, the serious and the trivial in a style referred to as "magical realism." The piece uses the standard sonata form (fast-slow-fast movements) but is anything but the standard development of thematic material usually encountered in this form. This music, with its ever varying and irregular rhythms, dissonances, and occasional off-key notes (where the "wrong note is right" to use Foy's words again), is difficult to execute. The musicians rose to the challenge under his precise and clear baton and gave truly fine renditions.
After intermission, we heard a work somewhat more traditional in form, if not in melodic content: Argentinian Albeto Ginastera's Varaciones Concertantes . Like Revueltas, he does not quote actual national melodies or rhythms directly, but his music speaks, in his own words, "with a pronounced Argentine accent," especially in the works of his middle period, such as this one. It opens with a presentation of the theme by cello and harp. There follow nine variations, each featuring a different solo instrument, or pair or group of instruments (for example, strings, oboe and bassoon together, or all the winds), followed by a reprisal of the theme by the double bass, and wrapped up with a final variation in the form of a rondo for orchestra. This is a lovely piece, and the soloists shone in their individual turns in the spotlight. Well-deserved warm applause, clearly not merely perfunctory, and some scattered bravos, greeted the musicians at its conclusion.
As usual, the printed program was exemplary, with well-written notes (uncredited, but we assume Foy was responsible) and well-selected quotes about the composers from various sources, photos of them, and recommended resources, both written and recorded. The document is a class act that, even if not professionally printed, puts the offerings of many other area institutions of higher learning with much larger music departments and degree programs to shame. Substance beats appearance any day in this realm, but this program looked nice also. The organization has also taken the initiative to find some corporate and individual support for its efforts. Bravo to those folks for doing so.
This was yet another fabulous job with a wonderful program from yet another group that just seems to get better and better each time this reviewer hears it. Its next outing, " Classics with a Twist," is on November 15, in the same space.