Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Evening with Edgar Meyer

The New Century Chamber Orchestra kicked off their year-long, five-concert season with guest star Edgar Meyer, a very famous bass player who everyone in the world has heard of except me.

According to his Wikipedia entry:
[Meyer]'s styles include classical, bluegrass, newgrass, and jazz. Meyer has worked as a session musician in Nashville, part of various chamber groups, a composer, and an arranger. His collaborators have spanned a wide range of musical styles and talents; among them are Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Sam Bush, James Taylor, Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, Mark O'Connor, Alison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and the trio Nickel Creek.

He also received the MacArthur Prize for genius in 2002, and has recorded a pair of bestselling Appalachian music CDs with Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor. And according to blogger Axel Feldheim, who was also at Saturday's concert in Herbst Theatre, Tom Hanks should definitely play Meyer in the movie.

After the orchestra played a "horrendous" Sonata in G Minor written by the twelve-year-old Rossini (the description is the composer's, the music and the performance were just fine), Meyer came out for a bit of solo Bach on his double-bass transcribed from one of the unaccompanied cello suites, and then joined the orchestra in a Concerto for String Bass No. 2 by Giovanni Bottesini, somebody else I'd never heard of before. It seems the 19th century Bottesini was "the Paganini of the double-bass," and besides writing and performing on the instrument, he was also a famous conductor who led the first performance of Verdi's "Aida" in Cairo. The music was fun, and the performance wildly virtuosic with cadenzas written by Meyer for the first and last movement.

After the bouncy first half of the concert, the orchestra waded into darker waters. They started with a transcription for string orchestra by Rudolf Barshai of Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet, which the composer renamed the "Chamber Symphony in C Minor." The Eighth Quartet was written in 1960, just after a trip to Dresden, which left the Soviet composer suicidally depressed and thinking about his imminent death (he lasted another fifteen years). The great Soviet composer's music is sounding better with each passing year, but I still prefer Sardonic Shostakovich to Gloomy Shostakovich, though God knows he had plenty of reasons to write the latter. The chamber orchestra's playing was my favorite of the evening, particularly the crazed, jagged second movement which is cribbed from Shostakovich's own Eighth Symphony.

The final piece, Mahler's Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony (overused in Visconti's 1970s movie of "Death in Venice" with Dirk Bogarde) was being recorded for an upcoming CD release from the orchestra. The audience was admirably silent and we floated along on the ten gentle minutes of harp and strings quite happily.

Pictured above are music director and concertmaster Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violinist Robin Mayforth, principal second violin Candace Guirao, violinist Deborah Tien Price, and bass principal Tony Manzo, who did a great job in the opening Rossini.

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