The New World Symphony's final chamber music program of the season featured an enticing sampling of 20th- and 21st-century music from the northern and southern hemispheres. Indeed, two of the scores by North American composers suggested Latin American influences, the interrelationship between cultures given strong creative expression.
Sunday afternoon’s concert opened with Rodeo Queen of Heaven by Libby Larsen. During a visit to the Denver Art Museum, the composer saw a hand-carved painted statue of a Madonna and child dressed in Western rodeo garb by artist Arthur Lopez. She was struck by Lopez's mingling of Southwestern American popular culture and Latin Christianity.
Larsen's 2010 score for clarinet, violin, cello and piano is an attempt to create a musical corollary to the artist's work. The tremendously appealing piece is vintage Larsen, filled with bustling energy and melodic strands gracefully woven around the piano's relentless drive. Fragments of Gregorian chant add layers of musical religious symbolism. Pianist Yu “Dean” Zhang's rhythmic lift and clarinetist Ran Kampel's lyrical flights highlighted a sharp-edged performance.
Ted Hearne is the most recent recipient of the joint program between the New World Symphony, San Francisco Symphony and music publisher Boosey & Hawkes to mentor young composers. In January, the New World premiered Hearne's orchestral score Dispatches, which was more notable for extended instrumental techniques than its musical coherence.
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His chamber work Gut Transparencies for six amplified violins received its premiere Sunday, and it proved a more diverting exercise in the relationship between pitch and noise. Seemingly tailor-made for the crisp, bright acoustics of the New World Center, Hearne's brief vignette features players scraping their bows on the instruments' wood or at the top of the fingerboard, creating sounds rather than pitches. High-pitched writing gradually gives way to a melody that sounds almost Baroque with Latin- infused rhythms. (Hearne cites jazz bassist and band leader Charles Mingus as an influence.) Violinists Thomas Hofmann, Julia Noone, Kristin Baird, Alexander Lee, Heather Thomas and Zubaida Azezi accomplished the Herculean task of meeting Hearne's unconventional technical demands while maintaining a strongly pinpointed pulse.
Aaron Copland's Sextet for clarinet, piano and string quartet is a chamber reworking of his 1933 Short Symphony. Although he had not yet synthesized his iconic Americana sound, Copland's musical signature is all over this bouncy, neoclassical piece. A theme played by strings in the second movement could have come out of Appalachian Spring, and the jazzed-up finale suggests his Music for the Theater. Aya Yamamoto dazzled in the busy keyboard role, and Miles Jaques breezed through the high clarinet part, combining dexterity and burnished tone. Violinists Lauren Densinger and Sarah Peters, violist Eve Tang and cellist Julia Yang contributed to a tightly polished ensemble.
Alberto Ginastera's Impressions of the Puna is an Andean folk cocktail spiked with a shot of impressionism, the work of an 18-year-old student. The folksy Canción and catchy Danza are from a different world than the composer's late atonal operas and instrumental scores. Flutist Luke Fitzpatrick was a standout, agile and quick in the syncopated moments.
In Dance in Seven Notes for bassoon and strings, Heitor Villa-Lobos treats the bassoon as a melodic instrument. Veteran pedagogue and chamber player Frank Morelli did the solo honors, producing a large sonority and singing line. His tone was smooth and graceful even in the lowest register. Rarely has the bassoon sounded so elegant. The well-drilled 16 string players superbly dovetailed Morelli.
Homage to Federico García Lorca by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas mixes austere, solemn incantations (featuring bluesy solos on muted trumpet and tuba) with raucous dance and Mariachi sounds. Masha Popova's piccolo and Kampel's E flat clarinet captured the raw, indigenous street sounds, and Dylan Girard's trumpet and Bethany Wiese's tuba conveyed pathos and riotous color among a stellar instrumental contingent.