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Tuesday June 25, 7:30 pm • Chamber Orchestra • Whiteside Theatre   map

Mozart Divertimento in F Major, K. 138

Maria Grenfell “And the Air Was Dancing” triple concerto for flutes, violin, viola, strings. 

Commisioned by the Ivy Street Ensemble with financial assistance from the Australian government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory board.

by Tom Strini

Maria Grenfell (b. 1969): And the Air Was Dancing (2018): I make a list of everything I hear when I encounter a new work. Then I decide which aspects of the music are most important.
Texture and density are critical in Maria Grenfell’s 21-minute triple concerto for flute (doubling alto flute and piccolo), violin, viola and string orchestra. Transparent passages with fewer voices and widely spaced chords contrast sharply with close harmonies that often narrow to seconds. This contrast drives the harmony and defines the big contours of the concerto.
The structures throughout, especially in the first two movements, has a free, pictorial, cinematic feel of episodes and scenes, as opposed to an architectural formal feel; I’m not detecting sonatas and rondos.
Melodies are rich, but elusive. They dart in and out of the textures like colorful birds through a canopy of trees. You don’t leave the hall humming the tunes – they’re too quick to catch — but you enjoy their fleeting charms. Those melodies, by the way, often occur in close canon, especially early in the finale. Which is cool. Beyond canon, a good deal of counterpoint — subject/countersubject and stretto — plays out under camouflage of the denser textures.
In the finale: The push and pull of breakneck speed and static reverie vies with textural contrast as the main issue. The music tries to rest and settle down, but the forward drive is just too strong.
In the opening two minutes and intermittently throughout, Grenfell inserts atmospheric bits in which the music hovers suspended in time. She stops to smell the roses during a cross-country race. Very charming.
The extended tonal harmonies and the aural sensuality of the music, especially in those floating moments, make it feel French to me. Grenfell doesn’t copy Ravel/Debussy; she offers a fresh take on Impressionist vocabulary.
But that’s just me. And now, the composer’s own program note, slightly edited (By the way, I wrote mine before I read hers):
It struck me that the colours of the three different flutes could be cast as different uses of air and this led me to see if I could illustrate varying formations of air through music.
The first movement, “Murmuration,” is a response to the formations of birds, usually starlings, that flock together in the sky, making incredible patterns of shapes and shadows, twisting and turning through the air and seeming to move as one. The second movement, “Aurora,” showcasing the alto flute, takes its title from the light patterns created in the darkness by the aurora australis in my part of the world, or the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere. The music aims to portray the depths and range of colours produced by the aurora, with occasional flashes of light causing the sky to appear as if it is on fire. The third and final movement, “Sun-dance,” with piccolo, gives the impression of sunlight dancing off water, with sparkles of light darting in all directions. The piece treats the solo trio as a group, with each instrument taking turns to feature its own virtuosity and distinctive characteristics.

Hindemith Five Pieces

by Tom Strini

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963): Five Pieces (1927): In the wake of World War I, many European artists in all disciplines were ready to jettison what they perceived as the decorative and emotional excesses of both 19th-century Romanticism and 20th-century Expressionism.
Hindemith, along with many musicians and visual artists, for a time threw in his lot with the Neue Sachlichkeit – New Objectivity – movement. Painters Max Beckmann, George Grosz and Otto Dix were part of it. In theater, Bertolt Brecht carried the banner. Rather than strive for personal emotional and spiritual truth in their work, they sought to capture the realities of the world, though not in a literal or illustrative way.
For musicians, this meant a rejection of Schoenbergian theory and pratice and of Wagnerian scale. Economy of means held high esteem. In France, this sort of thinking emerged in Stravinskian Neo-Classicism and Satie’s wry minimalism. In Germany, jazz and Baroque techniques played large roles.
Hindemith’s Five Pieces stands as a prime example of musical New Objectivity. Hindemith’s take on the Baroque suite weighs in at a mere 17 minutes. It’s for string orchestra, and a small one will do. Its five brief movements are tautly structured and very specific emotionally, as if in observance of the antique Theory of Affections. The first and fourth are melancholy, the other three are dancey. The finale motors along on predictable eighths and sixteenths while the rapid-running scales wobble as if drunk on the sharps and flats that festoon Hindemith’s score.

Vivaldi Concerto for 4 violins in B minor, Op. 3, No. 10, RV 580

Erik Peterson, Erin Furbee, Sarah Knutson, Katherine McLin

Allegro Adagio Largo Largo Larghetto Allegro

by Craig Leman

Like his Venetian father, Vivaldi was a red-head and a violinist. He studied
religion, was ordained, and became known as “The Red Priest. ”

There were two types of concertos in those days. The concerto grosso pitted unequal groups—small solo ensemble (concertino) against a larger string section (grosso). The solo concerto matched one instrument against the orchestra.

Alessandro Marcello Oboe Concerto in D minor

soloist Lara Wickes

by Tom Strini

Alessandro Marcello (1673-1747): Oboe Concerto in D Minor (c.1713): Mystery – or at least confusion – has veiled this smart, charming concerto for hundreds of years. The composer – a Venetian nobleman who dabbled in all the arts and ran a busy career as a diplomat, lawyer and judge — composed just a small number of works. He published them under a pseudonym, Eterio Stinfalico.
Bach cleared nothing up when he arranged the present concerto for harpsichord (BWV 974). Subsequent publications lumped Bach’s setting in collections his Vivaldi arrangements. Scholars later attributed the piece to Alessandro’s older brother, Benedetto, a much more active composer. But scholarly consensus today credits Alessandro.
In any case, this 10-minute, three-movement concerto is a polished gem. In the first movement, listen for a bouncy, wide-interval gesture in the orchestra. It recurs five times, to announce the ritonello theme, first in the home key of D minor and then through a cycle from F to A to B-flat and home again to D minor. Raindrop eighth-notes in the orchestra drip drip drip throughout the Adagio, first beneath a plaintive, folkish oboe tune and then a much more sophisticated and serpentine one. A robust, speedy dance – call it hornpipe, or maybe a gigue — in 3/8 ends the piece with rapid, virtuoso call-and-response between the oboe and the orchestra.