NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
MACMILLAN/ DEAN/ GRUBER
FROM GOTHIC HUMOR TO THE POETRY OF GRIEF
By Lawrence Budmen
Although too late for Halloween, HK Gruber brought his Frankenstein to Miami Beach’s Lincoln Theater on Saturday. Gruber’ s brash theatrical concoction was the piece de resistance on the New World Symphony’s 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. Artmann’s poems are incredibly scary and definitely not for children.
Gruber’s wickedly funny musical palette stretches from Vienesse court dances to a satirical quotation from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and a trombone solo in the big band manner of Tommy Dorsey. The less than subtle orchestration employs such children’s instruments as toy piano and kazoo, enhancing the piece’s 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 “pan-demonium.”
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 composer’s maternal grandmother who died the year of its composition (1989), Tryst celebrates the joy of life and the agony of grief.
MacMillan’s 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 composer’s 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 Adams’s brand of repetitive minimalism. The darkly burnished sound and riveting musicality of the violas were potently communicative in MacMillan’s 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 score’ 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.