By Lawrence Budmen

Although too late for Halloween, HK Gruber brought his Frankenstein to Miami Beachís Lincoln Theater on Saturday. Gruberí s brash theatrical concoction was the piece de resistance on the New World Symphonyís Sounds of the Times concert with the Austrian composer multitasking as conductor, chansonier, and host. 

Set to poems by H.C. Artmann, Frankenstein introduces such disparate characters as Superman, Batman and Robin, John Wayne, Goldfinger and James Bond. Artmannís poems are incredibly scary and definitely not for children. 

Gruberís wickedly funny musical palette stretches from Vienesse court dances to a satirical quotation from Stravinskyís Petrouchka and a trombone solo in the big band manner of Tommy Dorsey. The less than subtle orchestration employs such childrenís instruments as toy piano and kazoo, enhancing the pieceís gothic humor. 

Part Dudley Moore, part Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach), Gruber is a compelling theatrical personality. He does not really sing the narration but speaks in rhythms and musical pitches. His wry, frequently over the top delivery was uniquely endearing and the New World players offered a raucous, invigorating accompaniment to his ďpan-demonium.Ē 

Gruber also proved to be an impressive conductor of complex contemporary scores. He vividly conveyed the emotional extremes of Tryst by Scottish composer James MacMillan. Dedicated to the composerís maternal grandmother who died the year of its composition (1989), Tryst celebrates the joy of life and the agony of grief.

MacMillanís piece displays an arresting command of instrumental color, layered textures, and incisive rhythm, recalling the orchestral works of Bartok and Janacek. But Tryst is a powerful gripping work by a distinctive creative voice, with deep roots in the composerís Scottish heritage.

In the deeply poetic central movement, a shimmer of chimes blends with violas to create haunting melismas. T he vivacious outer sections combine neo-classicism with John Adamsís brand of repetitive minimalism. The darkly burnished sound and riveting musicality of the violas were potently communicative in MacMillanís dizzying soundscape. 

Despite some lovely orchestral coloration, Pastoral Symphony by Australian composer Brett Dean was disappointing. Dean utilizes a sampler with recordings of actual Australian birdsong. In the scoreí s opening section, the bird sounds combine with winds and strings to create a hypnotic stasis worthy of Messiaen. As violent orchestral outbursts ring forth, the music reverts to mere note spinning and fails to sustain a coherent musical discourse. 

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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