Saturday night at Sosnoff Theater offered an eclectic menu of program music, known and unknown. Up first was the World Premiere of a work by Corey Chang, who will graduate next year from Bard. Persephone Abducted follows the Greek myth of how Autumn (English dictionaries espouse a faux etymology, failing to link Autumn to the Egyptian god of that name) and the Winter season was created. Hades abducts gorgeous Persephone to his underworld where he imprisons her for four months; Autumn becomes the period when Persephone’s mother, Demeter, preps Persephone for that annual tour of hell.
Chang’s music was mysterious, dramatic, compelling, and exciting. He really brought the audience down some exotic dark cave after the emergence of inscrutable Hades and the abduction-descent. Instrumental voices then gossip over the affair and its implications. While I’m not sure of the composer’s intentions, this appears to me to be a contemporary allegory about Mother Earth. This work is a miniature ecological masterpiece that may be prophetic about world climate, yet it is not didactic or corny: ambiguously thrilling it plunges into one’s subconscious and lingers. Conductor Andrés Rivas deftly conjured a memorable and menacing underworld.
Antonín Dvořák’s Concerto for Cello in B minor, Op. 104, featured cellist Peter Wiley who played with authority, intense dynamics, and passionate finesse. Guest conductor Xian Zang elicited an enthusiastic response from student of the Bard Conservatory; her direction was clearly inspirational. Dvořák had heard Victor Herbert perform his second cello concerto, stormed the performer’s green room immediately, embraced Herbert with warmth, and retuned to his apartment with the seed of his own cello concerto, which combines symphonic sweep amid poignant and nostalgic pathos for youth and homeland. As a composer, Dvořák wrote more about personal memories than perhaps any other composer, and for those who love his music that remains Dvořák’s amiable signature; in this concerto dramatic balance between individual reminiscences by the cello and the more social commentary on life by the orchestra clash and reslove. Clarinet and flutes offer vivid supporting contrast to Wiley’s cello solos which supplied riveting suspense.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35 remains a thrilling orchestral explosion, or rather series of explosive delights. Loosely based upon the concept of the Arabic One Thousand and One Nights (I still think the translation of Sir Richard Burton to be a superior literary effort despite the dozen or so efforts to compete with him), it features the recurring theme of the story-teller distracting and enchanting the murderous sultan as musical “stories” are woven in. As the voice of civilized Scheherazade, violinist Alex van der Veen managed to be forcefully beguiling as well as eloquent.
One program storyline suggests the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, which are folkloric remnants of lost Greek epic sequels to Homer’s Odyssey. Despite the predictability of somewhat disguised marches and waltzes, one cannot help but smile at this colorful musical repast. One of the charms of this work is that so many pieces in the orchestra get a moment in the spotlight, as if to suggest the great bazaar of the multi-lingual world we live in: oh, those flutes, piccolo, horns, contrabassoon, and even harp with propulsive percussion!
It has been a little while since I have seen an audience so enthralled and rapturous at Sosnoff Theater, and that in great part was due to the extraordinary energy and skillful conducting by Xian Zhang, whom I hope will once again take the podium at Sosnoff.
Dr. Robert Martin announced that this concert was dedicated to the memory of Harold Farberman, conductor and percussionist, who taught at Bard for the past couple of decades and who past away last week. Farberman was a national legend, both as a renowned teacher of conducting as well as a composer of interesting chamber music that is not as well-known as it should be.