The Orchestra Now under the baton of Leon Botstein at Sosnoff Theater opened their new academic season not only with big unified sound but with precise nuance. They opened with the U.S. Premiere of Symphonic Poem No.1 which Galina Ustvolskaya composed in 1958 at the age of 39. The work, dedicated to the peasant farmers of Kazakhstan, echoes with clear folkloric motifs. Robustly rhythmic and harmonic, it conveys rural charm; the first movement sounded like it concluded with arresting winter sleigh bells. The second choral movement with state propaganda texts was cut. The third movement appeared to take the audience into the experience of spring on the wide-open steppes. I was impressed by the crispness of the orchestras full sound which still echoes in my ear. While an interesting Slavic novelty, this excellent piece is unlikely to sneak into the Western traditional repertoire. But I was glad to hear this small, cheerful sampling of Ustvolskaya’s style.
Soprano Paulina Swierczek appeared to sing Richard Struss wedding song gifts to his soprano wife Pauline, Four Songs, Op. 27. Swierczek graduated from the Bard Conservatory of Music in 2019, winning the 2019 Conservatory Concerto Competition. She sang faultlessly “Cäcilie,” “Heimliche,” “Morgan” and “Ruhe” with an attractive, comforting appeal, exuding a confident intimacy. Among these, my own favorite is “Morgen.”
During Intermission I spoke with trumpeter Guillermo Garcia Cuesta from Austurias in northwest Spain. He said that nearly everyone in that part of Spain plays a musical instrument. He first began with the guitar but switched to trumpet. Only after he took up trumpet, he discovered Louis Armstrong. Yet he had a strong interest in both poetry and classical music, so he switched from jazz to classical music. There are very few trumpet players who can play both jazz and classical, which is why someone like Wynton Marsalis is a rarity. I told Guillermo that I was looking forward to hearing him play in the Aaron Copland Symphony No. 3 (1946), which was next.
Although there is thought to be a general folk quality to Copland’s most accomplished work, no folk tunes are employed. Copland described his style as American vernacular. The first movement delineates the principal melody and themes from first the violins, then violas and oboes, then horns. Copland has described the three movements of this symphony as an arch, so the Scherzo remains the mostly lively of the three movements with woodwinds playing a key role, especially David Ordovsky and Sulina Baek on flutes. The fierce ending to the second movement was thrilling in its boisterous unity.
The third movement opens with Copland’s famous Fanfare for the Common Man where horns and percussion play key roles. I could clearly hear the smooth trumpet of Guillermo with his companion Anita Tóth; Peta Elk and Luis Herrera Albertazzi were split-second accurate. Jarrod Briley on tuba was magnificent. Later in the third movement the violins were important and strong, especially Emily Uematsu; also impressive was Ian Striedter on trombone. The reassertion of the opening motif at the conclusion brought everything together in the astonishing finale.
In terms of the history of The Orchestra Now opening concerts, this was the most impressive orchestral first concert that I have heard from this orchestra; Leon Botstein deserves credit. This fall season appears to be shaping up as an exciting ride across the European landscape.