Be careful what you wish for: you may get it, but not as you expect it. Last Friday, at a reception that followed the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s performance at Kennesaw State University, ASO Concertmaster David Coucheron casually expressed his wish that it would snow in Atlanta, because he missed the snow a lot.
Four days later, it snowed in Atlanta, to put it mildly. But Coucheron missed it and the chaos that reigned over the area, as he was off to Oslo, Norway, where he performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra led by its principal conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. That concert, at the University of Oslo, was broadcast live on Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s NRK P2, available worldwide via Internet streaming.
The radio audio mix allowed for both a full-bodied rendering of the orchestra and a vibrant solo performance by Coucheron. The virtuosic final movement was especially brilliant, garnering an enthusiastic ovation that evolved into a rhythmic clapping in demand of an encore. Coucheron complied by playing the Fugue from Bach’s Sonata for Solo Violin No.1 in G minor.
Back in Atlanta, Snowmageddon 2014 obliged the Woodruff Arts Center to remain closed Wednesday, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra rehearsals that day were canceled, as was Thursday night’s concert. The ASO concerts for Friday and Saturday at Symphony Hall remained as scheduled, plus another “road trip,” this time to Athens on Sunday afternoon at the University of Georgia’s 1,100-seat Hodgson Concert Hall.
ArtsATL was already committed on Friday to a performance by the contemporary mixed sextet yMusic at the Schwartz Center. According to Bob McKay, the center’s managing director, the adjacent Fishburne parking lot had only opened late that morning.
Talk in the lobby before the concert was how the “y” in yMusic refers to “Generation Y” (aka “millennials”) and the ensemble — Hideaki Aomori (clarinet and bass clarinet), C. J. Camerieri (trumpet and horn), Clarice Jensen (cello), Rob Moose (violin and guitar), Nadia Sirota (viola) and Alex Sopp (flute and piccolo) — indeed seems to have emerged mostly from the Juilliard School in this century’s first decade, the exception being Moose, who graduated from the Manhattan School.
Online biographies further reveal the six musicians have each paid their dues as freelancers, individually performing or recording with such top pop artists as Bjork, Peter Gabriel and David Byrne, to more classically oriented stars such as Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic. The yMusic musicians also had experience playing together in some of these same gigs. Then came the cofounding of yMusic in 2008 by Moose and Camerieri.
Although they have been promoted as a “hip sextet,” they thankfully do not exude the clichés of that moniker. Besides their accomplished performance skills and evident chemistry as an ensemble, what’s most striking is that, unlike many contemporary ensembles, they did not drag out all the usual familiar names of composers and landmark works in Friday’s performance. Instead, their repertoire was refreshingly tailor-made for them, featuring works by or arranged from Son Lux, Timothy Andres, Andrew Norman, Jeremy Turner, Judd Greenstein, Marcos Balter, Mark Dancigers, Gabriel Kahane and Nico Muhly.
The band has its own sound: often complex, always vital, without losing sight of lyrical, linear elements, however dissonant or shifting the harmonic center of the music may become. Although it may not be the tastes of every middle-brow audience, it’s well worth encounter by more than just a hard-core contemporary music audience. In all, a smart, engaging booking by the Schwartz.
By contrast, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Saturday night was an all-Russian affair, music by Mussorgsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, with guest conductor Roberto Abbado returning to the podium and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as guest soloist.
Given the canceled rehearsals and concert during the middle of the week, by Saturday there was sill some seat-of-the-pants moments for the orchestra, but that’s why these are professional musicians of this caliber: they have the chops to deal with such unusual circumstances and pull through. Abbado also did more than a few things to keep the performance on track.
The concert opened with Mussorgsky’s Prelude to his unfinished opera “Khovanshchina,” which evoked well the images implied by its subtitle,“Dawn on the Moskva River.” Salerno-Sonnenberg then took the stage to perform Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, wearing a short-sleeved lavender shirt that revealed a black flexible brace on her right elbow and forearm.
Nevertheless, Salerno-Sonnenberg turned an exciting performance, even if some of her gossamer pianissimos were overshadowed on occasion. Her late cadenza leading into the final Burlesque movement stood as the high mark of the evening. Abbado and the orchestra concluded the concert with Rachmaninoff’s popular, crowd-pleasing “Symphonic Dances,” which the ASO had recorded with Music Director Robert Spano and released in late 2011 on their own ASO Media label.