Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mark O'Connor Premiere at New Century Shines

I just enjoyed the fourth and final concert of my 2010-11 New Century Chamber Orchestra season. It featured the world premiere of fiddle virtuoso Mark O'Connor's commissioned piece called Elevations. Mark explained his vision for the two-movement, 25-minute piece before it was played in the second half of the event; he also visited with some of us who stayed after.

Mark is a repository of American violin/fiddle experience, and has woven that into Elevations as a celebration of the blend of beach, mountains and desert that is California as well as the mixture of cultures that has created our unique American music. Listening to it was exciting, thanks to the twists and turns of the work itself and the energy and professionalism of Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg's all-string ensemble.

The program began with two lovely Edward Elgar pieces and a short Frank Bridge composition, Sir Roger de Coverly. As fine as they were, they were merely the appetizer for the O'Connor piece. By commissioning works, the New Century Chamber Orchestra helps bring more new music to eager audiences, as well as making sure that the works are tailored especially to the special strings-only group.

The evening ended with a surprise performance of Alfred Schnittke's Moz-Art a la Haydn from 1977. It began with the lights out and once they flashed on after a few minutes of teasing the audience in the dark, a furious conductor and twin violinists in unusual costumes (a feather hat for one) gave a stimulating and often humorous piece of performance art.

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