Conductor Zachary Schwartzman led today’s performance of The Orchestra Now (TON) at Symphony Space in Manhattan, New York City. The orchestra draws gifted young musicians from national and international destinations who come to study, explore, enjoy, and express rich musical offerings.
The planned diverse program is derived from the oeuvre of the finest extant literature, presenting the musicians and audience alike with a challenging and interesting selection of works. Tonight’s theme, celebrating Hungarian composers from Kálmán to Bartok, explores a wide range of brilliant tonal music. Its variety and technical demands provide the means to display artistic virtuosity and the discrete tone colors available in a large ensemble of accomplished musicians.
The concert opened with the Gräfin Mariza Overture by Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán. This work emanates from the era of Operettas, made famous by composers like Sigmund Romberg and Franz Lehár. It brings listeners back to an era of romantically lush and rich music. We hear extravagant portamentos of which Fritz Kreisler would approve, string sections harmonically divided for a richer sound and romantic sentimentality. This dramatic, panoramic work exemplified the era’s style and demonstrated the orchestra’s ability to express its moods and contrasts.
Violinist Misty Drake stood and described Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes, which was to be performed next. She noted Lizst’s inspiration for the development of the tone poem and described the motif that was to drive the work’s structure. She called on a flutist to demonstrate the motivic foundation. Her insights informed audience members to follow the motif and means of expressing the work’s sentience. The performance met and exceeded expectations. It was immediately evident that the orchestra could effectively perform grand, late 19th-century romantic music. Apparent were excellent ensemble work, intonation, pitch, adherence to tempo and dynamics, and sheer musicality.
Violinist Adam Jeffreys introduced Zoltán Kodály’s work Dances of Galánta. He spoke of the composer’s efforts in memorializing Hungarian folk songs in recorded media near the turn of the 20th century. He also noted frequent clarinet solos that emerge in the work. The orchestra captured and projected the work’s intense pathos and picturesque qualities. Clarinet solos were exposed and challenging indeed and beautifully performed. Sometimes, one could imagine dancers immersed in a celebration of folkish vitality.
Keith Hammer introduced Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. He explained how a rhythmic motif could be expressed melodically by the orchestra. He called on percussionist Petra Elek to demonstrate the motif on a snare drum with the snares muted – this results in a “tom-tom” sound. Noting Bartók’s skill in utilizing new sounds, he called on harpist Jane Yoon to perform two sequential chords using spoons rather than fingers on the strings.
Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra was the evening’s most challenging work. It is a true concerto for orchestra, providing ubiquitous virtuosic solos throughout. The performance of this bracing, vigorous, and inventive work was polished and assertive. Its stringent logic, intense subjectivity, and metrical invention were well executed. Of note were its exciting fugato elements, wonderfully articulated through each section: exceptional cello and double bass work noted in the exposed andante non troppo opening to the first movement. Mixed meters were seamlessly performed.
Conductor Zachary Schwartzman dramatically guided the orchestra to express a kaleidoscope of coruscating musical colors. He delivers cues, tempo changes, metrical nuances, and expressions with aplomb. He draws energy, excitement, and sheer musicality from the young artists. Balance is excellent, and we can hear soloists clearly throughout every work, whether winds, brass, strings, or percussion, including instruments that generally play over or blend with an orchestra accompaniment. Musical meaning gleaned is expressed with eloquence, finish, and virtuosity.
There were many soloists throughout the concert, clearly showing the care in selecting music that challenges and engages the entire ensemble. Special mention to frequent, well-played solos on flute, piccolo, oboe, French horn, timpani, harp, and snare drum, to name a few. Impressive also was the clear distinction of parts in the strings. That is, sections played so well that each section of multiple individuals sounded like one. Well done, indeed.
Orchestra members wrote excellent program notes, and several orchestra members stood and introduced themselves and the next work to the audience. These were personal, articulate, and well-informed, akin to Leonard Bernstein’s work with children’s concerts a generation or so ago.
This is an excellent orchestra and fine organization. The full house, supporters, and enthusiastic audience confirm that. Be sure to look ahead to future concerts.
Runtime with intermission: 120 minutes.
The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of the American Symphony at Carnegie Hall. The American Classical Orchestra, Maestro Kent Tritle and Musica Sacra at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Punta Gorda Symphony Presents From Bach to Broadway.