Tuesday, September 26, 2017

New Horizons with New Century

The New Century Chamber Orchestra opened its 26th season last week in Berkeley, San Francisco, and San Rafael with a concert called New Horizons led by their new "Artistic Partner," British violinist Daniel Hope. He first appeared with the ensemble last year, and I wrote: "The New Century Chamber Orchestra is looking for a new leader after announcing that Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is leaving her music director post after the upcoming season. Daniel Hope is probably too busy to be interested in a job halfway around the world from his base in Vienna. Plus, he is taking over the Zurich Chamber Orchestra this year from Roger Norrington. Still, it was obvious that Hope worked beautifully with the New Century musicians, and it would be nice to see him return." See, wishes do come true sometimes.

The concert at Herbst Theatre on Saturday started with a misfire, Mendelssohn's 1825 Octet for Strings. "This was originally written for eight musicians, but we all wanted to play, just because..." Hope explained, and though the sentiment was lovely, the clarity of the original octet turned into sludge with double the amount of players, sounding more like Brahms than Mendelssohn at times.

The next piece was the world premiere of a three-movement violin concerto by composer Alan Fletcher above, written for Hope to perform with the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the Savannah Festival, and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. The composer rambled on a bit before the performance about its relation to water sounds and the seven miniatures constituting the slow second movement, but the music grew progressively more interesting as it went along, and Hope obviously loved playing the concerto.

After intermission, we were treated to Orawa, a wonderfully energetic, minimalist-tinged ten-minute piece by the recently deceased Polish composer, Wojciech Kilar. I had never heard the work before this week and it was a delightful discovery (click here for a fun YouTube version by a Polish youth orchestra). New Century played the heck out of it.

The evening ended with an emotional, beautifully performed rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1880 Serenade for Strings.

It's encouraging that Daniel Hope has signed on for three years as Artistic Partner. His energy and musicality are a delight, and the orchestra has never sounded better.

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