Friday, March 06, 2009

New Century Chamber Orchestra

New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director

Thu, March 5, 2009 at 8pm, Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
The Glory of Russia

Prokofiev (arr. Rudolf Barshai): Visions Fugitives, Op. 22
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano

Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Adam Luftman, trumpet

Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence

I like the savory, Russian-themed program for the New Century Chamber orchestra's Herbst Theatre gig last night. For the 1st half, the stage was dominated by the grand piano, hugged on 3 sides by the group's 19 string players. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg & Ms. McDermott each spoke briefly before the concert to tell us how excited they were & how the Shostakovich Concerto would follow the Prokofiev immediately without a pause. They did 16 of the introspective & musing Visions Fugitives, arranged here for piano & chamber orchestra. Ms. McDermott has a crystalline touch & is an involved & slightly erratic interpreter. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg leads but does not conduct, & somehow the musicians manage to communicate over that huge piano.

Without missing a beat, the group indeed went straight into the Shostakovich, the transition clearly, if abruptly, demarcated by a sudden piano run & an off-stage trumpet call. The concerto now underway, the trumpet soloist then made his way on-stage to a seat at the far end of the piano. Even though Mr. Luftman was at the front of the stage, he kept his sound in check with the rest of the orchestra. It was an admirably modest brass performance!

The lusciously Romantic Souvenir de Florence was given a vigorous, excitable interpretation. The ensemble ripped greedily into everything, whether fast or slow. Even seated, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg displays the wild gyrations, jerks & spasms that characterize her solo playing. It would be impossible for her highly individual playing not to stick out. I occasionally closed my eyes in order not to be distracted by watching her.

The hall was nearly full, & the audience cheered & whooped for the concerto & for the Tchaikovsky, which got an immediate standing ovation. Halfway through the Tchaikovsky, an appreciative audience member decided to give prolonged applause to each movement, undeterred by the fact that no one else joined in.

At the end of the evening I was gratified to note that the New Century Chamber Orchestra is nearly an all-girl band. I counted only 3 guys among the nearly 20 orchestra members.

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