NEW WORLD SYMPHONY 
MARK NIEHAUS
HARBISON/ GOUNOD/ GABRIELI/ SAMPSON/ TOMASI (9-14-07)
JOEL SMIRNOFF/ IGOR LESCHISHIN
RANJBARAN/ VAUGHAN WILLIAMS/ BRAHMS (9-15-07) 
CELEBRATING 20 YEARS WITH AN AWAKENING

By Lawrence Budmen

The New World Symphony opened its 20th anniversary season with multiple performances showcasing the instrumental choirs of the Miami based orchestral academy. 

Saturday brought the Julliard String Quartet’s Joel Smirnoff to the Lincoln Theater stage to conduct the string section in a challenging program. Smirnoff’s infectious enthusiasm and scholarly integrity compensated for his less than precise baton technique. 

Iranian born composer Behzad Ranjbaran was present for the American premiere of his Awakening, a reflection on war and peace. After commencing with fiercely driven rhythms reminiscent of the young Stravinsky, the score’s powerful central episode offers layered textures of ravishing string sonorities that reach the heights of sublimity. This intense work is an important addition to the chamber orchestra repertoire. 

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto in A minor marked the return of New World alum Igor Leschishin, now a first chair player with the Washington National Opera Orchestra. Echoes of British folk song flow through Vaughan Williams’ gentle stream of melodic riches. Leschishin phrased with rhapsodic sweep, offering a swirl of colorful tone, and executing the twists and turns of the final Scherzo with agile precision and rapid fire brio. Smirnoff evoked silken waves of tonal beauty from the dark hued violas and cellos. 

Brahms’ String Sextet No.1 in B-flat Major was presented in an orchestration by Yoav Talmi that channeled exaggerated Russian romanticism rather than Brahmsian warmth. Smirnoff’s authoritative, expressively molded performance benefited from years of experience playing the original chamber version. 

Friday’s woodwind and brass ensemble concert offered a less consistent level of performance. John Harbison’s Wind Quintet was rendered with hard edged brilliance that slighted the wit and Gallic infused lightness of this iconoclastic composer’s quirky essay. A lackluster rendition of Gounod’s charming Petite Symphonie suffered from some fluttery intonation. 

The New World brass shone impressively under the direction of Mark Niehaus in the gallant, ceremonial fanfares of Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzon quarti toni. David Sampson’s Reflection on a Dance was enlivened by Aaron Copland tinged percussive flourishes. A gorgeously spun, declamatory trombone solo by Nicole Abissi highlighted the exciting brass and percussion extravaganza of Henri Tomasi’s Fanfares Liturgiques (1947), the forerunner of Miklos Rozsa’s overblown scores for Hollywood biblical epics. 



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