NEW WORLD CONCLUDES SEASON WITH EXCITING PREMIERE
By Lawrence Budmen
When a young composer emerges with a gift for melody and instrumental invention, there is cause for celebration. Kevin Puts (1972- ) was educated at Yale University, Tanglewood, the Eastman School, and Rome’s American Academy. In addition to being a Guggenheim Fellow and Charles Ives scholar, he was a Prix de Rome winner. William Bolcom and Christopher Rouse were among his teachers. He teaches composition at the University of Texas. From the first shimmering string tones of Puts’s “Symphony No.3” (“Vespertine”) it was obvious that this was the work of a creative artist of exceptional talent and craftsmanship. The New World Symphony opened its concluding concert of the season on May 7 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach with the World Premiere of the Revised Version of this young composer’s impressive opus.
Surging romantic melodies beguile the ear in the symphony’s opening movement “through the warmth chord.” Orchestral pastels suggest Debussy and Albert Roussel. Melodically Aaron Copland seems to have been a great influence. Yet Puts says the Icelandic rock singer-composer Bjork inspired this score. He has indicated her timbre and melodic style are mirrored in his symphony. Certainly the second movement “I have a recurrent dream” is a fleet experiment in rhythm and tonality. The finale “it’s not meant to be strife” resolves dissonant interruptions with consonance, melody, musical communion. The glistening combinations of winds and strings and the concise musical formulations are the hallmarks of a musical craftsman. This is an entrancing score. I look forward to the composer’s future works.
NWS Principal Guest Conductor Alasdair Neale led a sensuous, high powered performance with brilliant solo work by the first chair violins, cellos, and flute. Neale conducted the premiere of the first version of the symphony with the Marin Symphony (in suburban San Francisco). Conductor and orchestra brought total dedication to this appealing work. The composer was present to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause of both the audience and the New World musicians.
“Harmonielehre” by John Adams concluded the concert on a contemporary note. One of the loudest pieces in the contemporary orchestral repertoire, this 1981 work is rather primitive compared to such recent Adams scores as the Violin Concerto (performed memorably two seasons ago by Leila Josefowicz with the composer conducting) and the Pulitzer Prize winning “On the Transmigration of Souls.” The second movement “The Amfortas Wound” quotes poignantly from Wagner’s “Parsifal” (in the lower strings) – one of this score’s few quiet moments. Neale found surprising variety in the score. He emphasized lush string sonorities that one never realized were in this music. The young players gave Neale their all and then some. This performance literally reenergized a somewhat dated work.
Between the two contemporary works pianist Jonathan Biss essayed Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat Major” (“Emperor”). Biss has gained considerable attention for his performance on the soundtrack of Roman Polanski’s film “The Pianist.” After a rocky start (several mistakes in the first movement) Biss settled into a solid, highly musical performance. There was some lovely tonal shading and welcome lightness in the beautiful Adagio un poco mosso. The final Rondo really sparkled with a lilting dance rhythm. Biss is not a pianistic superstar but he is an intelligent musician who puts the composer first. Neale and the orchestra were the real stars of this performance. The conductor’s brisk, lithe reading was Beethoven in the modern mode. The bright, sharp orchestral textures owed much to the period instrument movement (and to Paavo Jarvi’s recent guest conducting appearance with the NWS leading invigorating Mozart). Neale’s Beethoven was tonic to the ears.
This cutting edge program was a microcosm of what the New World Symphony does best – two worthy modern scores and a New Age look at a classic. The concert was also a reminder that Alasdair Neale is an outstanding conductor who deserves a major orchestral directorship. A brilliant conclusion to a stimulating season!