Moving from its customary perch in the second floor galleries of the San Diego Museum of Art, Art of Élan set up shop on stage at Copley Symphony Hall Tuesday (January 10) to add a bit of American chamber music to the orchestra’s recently inaugurated January festival of American Music.
For the heart of this program, guest conductor Steven Schick led a luminous performance of Aaron Copland’s original chamber orchestration (a mere 13 musicians) of his 1944 ballet “Appalachian Spring.” Two highly accessible solo works, including a world première by Hannah Lash, and Steve Reich’s now classic 1972 “Clapping Music” completed the evening’s fare.
Although this well-received program struck me as lacking adventure, it certainly could boast of polished performances throughout, bolstered by acutely sensitive interpretations. Those who know “Appalachian Spring” only from its frequently programmed orchestral suite, a transcription the composer made in 1945 at the behest of Boston Symphony Music Director Serge Koussevitzky, need to hear the orginal chamber version for its pristine linear clarity and space between the musical lines—a mirror of the simplicity of Shaker furniture so prized by collectors of Americana. Aptly, variations on the Shaker hymn tune “Simple Gifts” comprises the most memorable and frequently quoted part of “Appalachian Spring.”
Performing from the very front of the Copley Hall stage, with the shell moved forward immediately to the players’ backs, gave Schick’s taut, buoyant account of the Copland a welcome immediacy, a presence not usually experienced with the full orchestra arrayed on Copley’s deep stage. I appreciated the strings’ lithe unisons and supple phrasing; Executive Director of Art of Élan Kate Hatmaker led securely from the first violin chair. Clarinetist Theresa Tunnicliff communicated the austere beauty of that first full exposition of the Shaker tune, and her wind colleagues—flutist Rose Lombardo and bassoonist Ryan Simmons—matched her elegant lines as they pursued Copland’s inventive thematic explorations. Pianist Ines Irawati’s percussive piano attacks added the piquant linear definition that Schick required.
Art of Élan provided part of the commission for Hannah Lash’s “Tree Suite” for harp, a four-movement suite of neo-classical design that gave the harp an abundance of suave themes wrapped in sweeping, iconic harp arpeggiation. In San Diego Symphony Principal Harp Julie Smith Phillips’ skilled hands, Lash’s new work floated through the hall with consummate grace and poise. But I cannot help wonder—is this return to unblemished tonality the Brexit of the current compositional new wave? Time will tell.
Eve Beglarian’s 2006 “I will not be sad in this world” for alto flute presented a wistful, modal Armenian folk tune over a subtle, cloud-like electronic accompaniment that sounded like distant treble voices. Rose Lombardo’s dark, mellow sonority imbued this soulful theme with mysterious pathos. Somewhere, Alan Hovhaness is smiling in appreciation.
To open this program, Steven Schick and three fellow percussionists–Gregory Cohen, Erin Douglas Dowrey, and Andrew Watkins–treated the audience to Steve Reich’s now signature “Clapping Music,” a tour de force of rhythmic clapping that was inspired, according the Schick’s amusing introduction from the stage, by flamenco performance practice.
This performance was presented by the San Diego Symphony in the Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall on Tuesday, January 10, 2017. The festival “Our American Music” continues in this venue through January 29, 2017.