Tuesday, February 01, 2011

New Century Chamber Orchestra's Bon Voyage Concert

The New Century Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of violin soloist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (below), is going on tour this week to Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois before returning next week to roam California from San Diego to Davis. Let's hope they are even able to make it to the Midwest, which is currently being slammed by a blizzard that's equal parts snow and freezing rain, because the touring program they have put together is the best concert I have heard from them.

Nadja, who is a funny, self-deprecating speaker, opened the concert at Herbst Theatre on Saturday with a speech about how "tirelessly" the orchestra has been working in advance of this tour, which turned out to be believable because you could hear it. The opening "Italian Serenade" by Hugo Wolf and "Romanian Folk Dances" by Bartok had been played by the ensemble in recent concerts, but Saturday's performances were in a whole new league in terms of verve and precision. They followed with Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," which had been arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov for Gidon Kremer and his Camerata Baltica in the 1990s. The NCCO has already recorded this piece, but again, Saturday's live performance was on a different level, and it was easy to see why Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is a famous soloist.

The second half of the concert consisted of Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings," with its Mozart-inflected dances and familiar melodies. For a change of taste, the encore was by the forbidding Russian composer Alfred Schnittke. "Don't worry," Nadja wisecracked from the stage, "It's a polka, and it's fun." It was fun, a grotesquely deconstructed polka that kept going in and out of tune. The concert wrapped up with Gershwin's "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" transcribed for string orchestra and soloist. It was lovely.

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