Monday, May 14, 2012

NCCO: Zwilich World Premiere

New Century Chamber Orchestra, 05.13.2012 Valet parking attendance in front of Herbst Theatre. I believe they were waiting on attendees of the New Century Chamber Orchestra.The audience at Saturday night's concert by the New Century Chamber Orchestra seemed unusually well-heeled, & there was a row of valet parkers in front of Herbst Theatre. NCCO are an extroverted ensemble, & since there is no conductor the musicians constantly watch each other. They played Grieg's Holberg Suite with forward-moving tempos. In the Sarabande, it was nice to hear bass player Anthony Manzo's round, plump sound & cellist Susan Babini's taut yet expansive playing.

The premiere of Ellen Zwilich's Commedia dell'Arte, a bright concerto for violin, was preceded by a video in which Ms. Zwilich & Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg describe the Commedia dell'Arte characters which inspired it. The piece is cute. Each movement prominently features a different percussion instrument. A violist plays the slap in the 1st movement, against the solo violin's short, fast phrases. In the 2nd movement, cellist Michelle Djokic elegantly shook & tapped her tambourine while the soloist played long, high lines & imitated the twittering of a bird. Concert master Dawn Harms hammed it up on the toy drum in the 3rd movement, which has a swaggering motion. The 4th movement opens with a cadenza reprising previous themes & is a non-stop run. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg played alertly & definitely acted as both conductor & soloist. She rocked her hips as much as she played the violin. Ms. Zwilich was in the audience & came on stage, still carrying her purse, to take a bow with the performers.

The beginning of the 2nd half was delayed while Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg & the orchestra waited for someone seated near the stage to silence their mobile phone. The musicians were focused throughout Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht. I liked the deep rumbling tremolos of the cellos & bass. Candace Guirao played a calmly controlled viola solo, & Ms. Babini's cello solos had an expectant feel. A series of accented chords evoked repeated grasping. The orchestra remained motionless at the end, & there was a long silence from the audience. It was a bit odd to follow this with comedic variations on "Happy Birthday," but the orchestra was having fun, & the parodies of Beethoven, Brahms, Hollywood film music & ragtime were especially convincing.

To close, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg read a prepared speech acknowledging out-going NCCO President Paula Gambs in most appreciative terms. Three more musicians joined the orchestra for the solemn Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations, played in honor of Ms. Gambs. Ms. Gambs was then asked to come on stage where she was made an honorary member of Musicians Union Local Six & received a proclamation from the mayor's office. Ms. Gambs joked that she was available to play the finger cymbals.

§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director

Edvard Grieg: Holberg Suite
Ellen Zwilich: Commedia dell'Arte (World Premiere Commission)
        Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
Peter Heidrich: Happy Birthday Variations

Edward Elgar: "Nimrod" from Variations on an Original Theme for orchestra ("Enigma"), Op. 36

Saturday, May 12, 2012, 8pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

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