Chamber Orchestra Review Print

Cross Currents Chamber Music - Who Needs a Conductor Anyway?

July 7, 2009 - Cary, NC:

The Cross Currents Chamber Music Arts Festival, launched by the Brussels Chamber Orchestra, continued with a dramatic evening of capriccios and concertos, featuring guests artists from the North Carolina Symphony. Carrie Knowles, one of the organizers, explained that Cross Currents is designed to bring together local and international artists in a yearly festival. This summer marks the first official year for the event. As a chamber orchestra, the BCO has no conductor — the only conducting of the night was performed by a certain very young gentleman who was anxious to practice with his toy baton before the concert — and although principal violinist Nana Kawamura provides leadership, this environment demands great personal musicianship and responsibility as a part of the collaborative atmosphere.

When playing in an ensemble, musicians are often advised to breathe together. The members of the BCO take this technique to a new level: they almost dance to their own music — including the cellists. (The group actually studies with dancer Paula Opazo.) The dynamic expressivity of each section was as irresistibly compelling to watch as it was to hear. When Felix Mendelssohn’s Capriccio in E, Op. 81, No. 3, opened the program, the deeply mysterious lines were developed with generous, dramatic phrasing. The musical freedom seemed enhanced, oddly enough, by the precision with which it was approached. A disconnected ensemble is limited to a strict tempo; one with such an uncanny level of communication is able to more fully develop the musical potential of a piece. One stunning bit of virtuosity that remained consistently impressive throughout the evening was their perfectly synchronized pizzicato, usually the Achilles’ heel of string ensembles.

The dynamic of the group changed dramatically with the entrance of the soloist as they deftly adapted to a supporting musical role: balancing a solo viola is no joke. "Trauermusik," a tribute to George V composed by Paul Hindemith the day after the monarch’s death, is a touching expression of grief. The soloist, Christopher Fischer, played with a distant, mature reserve and a tone as silky, dark, and rich as fine chocolate. Hindemith’s non-diatonic tonal style is a bit bewildering, but the kaleidoscopic colors of this piece are incomparable. The final movement quotes from the chorale "Für deinen Thron tret ich hiermit," better known to English-speaking audiences as “Old 100th,” the tune of the Doxology. The viola solo, poignant as the prayer of a despairing soul, was surrounded by harmonies reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s arrangement of the chorale — or a heavenly chorus of angels.

Ernest Bloch’s "Nigun," with Dovid Friedlander as soloist, was characteristic of its title, a type of Jewish religious song. The haunting middle-eastern melody encompasses wide leaps in range, virtuosic ornaments, and magical double stops. An unforgettable moment occurs when the wild, untamed melody suddenly cascades into two notes in the lower range of the violin, one swelling up and down in half steps around the other, a pedal point. Dovid Friedlander accented the almost ghostly quality of the simple, but powerful moment. He reflected the changes in register with changes in tone color, and created a commanding and passionate atmosphere.

Jeremy Preston and Jacqueline Wolborsky presented a crisp, lively performance of an old favorite, J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra, S.1043. While the overlapping phrases often tend to have the impatient quality of an argument, Preston and Wolborsky gave an impression of a graceful flirtation. The extra frills in the ornamentation only enhanced the effect. The second movement initially seemed a bit matter-of-fact, but became more tender as the music progressed. The Allegro showcased the complementary qualities of the soloists’ tone: Preston’s liquid clarity and Wolborsky’s complex sound lent individuality. The soloists’ rapport and camaraderie was at least partially explained by a quick kiss as they left the stage.

The final work on the program was Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in D minor. This concerto was for the chamber orchestra only; the complex rhythms showcased the rhythmic accuracy of the ensemble. The intense repeated notes, unexpected and unrelated V-I cadences, and unusual melodic and harmonic orchestrations punctuated the alternatively waltz-like and nearly arrhythmic piece. The chamber orchestra pulled off this programmatically daring end of the concert to perfection.

While the golden sunset light and tall Loblolly pines in Bond Park provided a lovely setting, the outdoor venue was not without its drawbacks. A train whistle provided one distraction, and the enthusiastic cicadas took a perverse delight in their untimely contributions to the evening’s music. A slipped string forced a fresh start of the third movement of the Bach double, in spite of Jacqueline Wolborsky’s gallant efforts to re-tune…while continuing to play. However, the audience—which included an encouragingly large number of children and youth—was both gracious and enthusiastic in their appreciation.

The Cross Currents Chamber Music Arts Festival concludes (more Hindemith and Mendelssohn!) on Thursday, July 9. Check our calendar for details.