BWW Review: ORPHEUS CHAMBER ORCHESTRA at Carnegie Hall
For quite some time now, there has been a growing awareness of the preponderance of senior citizens in the audience at classical music events. People under the age of 55 are usually in the minority of concert attendees. There are any number of reasons for this, among them the lack of exposure to the genre in schools and/or at home, the cost of tickets, and even misperceptions of the music itself, that it's "boring."
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is attempting to change this mindset. This innovative assemblage of master musicians has come up with a number of educational initiatives, among them Access Orpheus -NYC. As part of this program, free tickets to their Carnegie Hall performances are available to New York City schoolchildren.
It was therefore heartening to see so many children and young people in attendance at last night's Orpheus performance. There were student groups from near and far who came to enjoy an engaging program of works by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), and to experience the exciting work of Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili.
The Entr'acte No.1 from Schubert's incidental music to the stage play Rosamunde is an example of one of his many theatrical compositions. The piece has a symphonic feel to it, and indeed may have been intended for one of Schubert's most famous symphonies, the so-called "Unfinished." Orpheus played this brief work with a rich, full sound that was much larger than the group itself. The dynamic shadings of the strings and lovely woodwind solos were the emotional highlights of this intriguing musical fragment.
The next work on the program, Schubert Waltzes Suite, bore the fingerprints of three composers. Schubert, of course, who wrote the original piano pieces; Prokofiev, who turned them into a suite for two pianos; and contemporary composer Paul Chihara, who orchestrated them for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Schubert's original voice could be heard in the singing melodic lines, but Prokofiev's contributions were very much in his own style, complete with strong first beat accents and abrupt minor to major tonal shifts. There were some lyrical wind solos in this piece which helped mitigate the heaviness of Prokofiev's sound. The orchestration made this piece more Prokofiev's than Schubert's, although the two styles were not necessarily mutually exclusive, and sometimes were complementary! Somehow, it worked.
Perhaps the most famous of all his compositions, Schubert's Symphony No.8 in b minor, D.759 "Unfinished" filled out the first half of the program. With far fewer musicians than in a standard-sized orchestra, the Orpheus strings played the main melodic phrases with clarity and emotional nuance. There was a yearning quality combined with a sense of urgency in their playing, particularly in the first movement. The group's famed musical collaboration was evident in their finely calibrated dynamics, an element baton-led orchestras with many more players sometimes find difficult to accomplish. Entrances were precise, releases were graceful. Orpheus members play as one cohesive unit, all thinking and feeling the same musical ideas. It is a thing of beauty to behold and hear.
Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.2 in g minor, Op.63, played by the irrepressible, youthful violinist Lisa Batiashvili, was the evening's showpiece. Orpheus and Ms.Batiashvili were equal partners in this work, although there were times when the ensemble, including Ms.Batiashvili, took over from the solo part. Soloist and orchestra were in constant eye contact, especially evident with the lower strings. Ms. Batiashvili tore into this virtuosic, diabolically difficult violin part with glee and precision playing. She demonstrated the full range of what the violin can do, by turns playing with a sweet, poetic tone and wild, ferocious decisiveness. It was a tour de force performance in every way.
Ms. Batiashvili chose the "March" from Prokoviev's satirical opera "The Love for Three Oranges" as her encore. This brief, well-known work was happily received by the audience, sending them smiling out into the night, not a bored face in sight.