Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Michael Daugherty at the New Century Chamber Orchestra
The New Century Chamber Orchestra has been focusing on a different contemporary composer each season, and this year the honoree was Michael Daugherty above.
He has been commissioned to write a violin concerto for a concert this November to be played by Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg above, and last weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts the ensemble offered an hour-long sampler plate of his music, starting off with the 2012 Viva, a short, wild solo violin piece played by Nadja "in the spirit of Ann Margret in Viva Las Vegas," according to the composer.
It was followed by the 1991 Viola Zombie for two violas "rising from the dead and slumping back again," which was given a sensational performance by Anna Kruger and Jenny Douglas above, marred only by the Twilight Zone theme at the end which kept reappearing to diminishing amusement.
The duo was followed by a 2006 piano trio called Regrets Only with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Karen Shinozaki, and Isaac Malamed. Daugherty explained that it was his attempt to write a "big, old-fashioned tune," but my friend Charlie Lichtman thought it sounded like a rehashed Fritz Kreisler Liebeslied without the big tune.
This was followed by the Kronos Quartet commission Elvis Everywhere from 1993, "one of my enfant terrible pieces," Daugherty explained, and it hasn't aged particularly well. The prerecorded loop of three Elvis impersonators singing Presley songs and intoning iconic sayings of the King was fairly amusing, but the string quartet accompaniment didn't add much and the short piece felt long. The Daugherty retrospective ended with a 1989 piece for the entire string orchestra called Strut which was supposed to evoke the Harlem Renaissance.
All this music was energetic and meticulously written, and the American Pop references were usually funny and smartly handled, but the cumulative effect felt minor and uninvolving.
On the second half of the program, the orchestra played Czech composer Josef Suk's 1892 Serenade for Strings. After the sweetly harmonic first movement, a gentleman in the front row turned to his companion and stage whispered "Now that's more my kind of music!" except his gravelly voice wasn't really made for whispering and half the audience heard the remark. Suk (1874-1935) was a marvelous composer, a student and son-in-law of Antonin Dvorak, and grandfather to Josef Suk, the supremely gifted violinist who died in 2011. The New Century Chamber Orchestra gave a fine performance of the Serenade, and by the end I was ready to growl, "Now that's more my kind of music" myself.