NEW WORLD SYMPHONY - MUSIC FROM NEW RUSSIA (3/26/05)

By Lawrence Budmen

Works from the final years of Communist rule and the post Soviet era commenced the New World Symphony's festival The Russian Musical Soul on Saturday evening at the Lincoln Theater. Michael Tilson Thomas and Vladimir Feltsman added musical glamour to this fascinating event. Scores by Victor Kissine, Sofia Gubaidulina, Alfred Schnittke, and Valentin Silvestrov found the composers experimenting with new instrumental textures and complex harmonies. Yet the deep shadows of Dimitri Shostakovich and Estonian mystic Arvo Part remained strongly evident. 

The program opened with the World Premiere of Aftersight for Violin and Chamber Orchestra by Kissine, a New World Symphony commission. Kissine's evocative miniature concerto opens with a repetitive ostinato. The score proceeds to post Romantic atonality akin to Alban Berg's Violin Concerto. The rhapsodic violin line exquisitely dovetails gossamer harp and percussion. Alexander Barantschik, concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, gave a searing performance of this impressive score. Feltsman led a lucid account of the lovely orchestral subtext. The composer received an enthusiastic ovation.

Gubaidulina's Steps is filled with magical sounds. Wonderful combinations of bells, harpsichord, and percussion produce heavenly chaos. Bach inspired contrapuntal writing in the strings and a seven part verbal fugue on Rilke's poem "The Angel" add spice to this score's heady brew. This is music influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen and the Darmstadt School but with a decidedly Russian accent. Like Pierre Boulez Feltsman conducts avant garde scores with remarkable clarity and insight. A luminous viola solo by Joy Fellows highlighted a splendid orchestral performance. 

Schnittke's In Memoriam is an orchestration of his Piano Quintet. The composer's favorite combination of harpsichord and strings provides musical irony. Much of the work is reminiscent of Shostakovich's film scores (Hamlet, The Gadfly) particularly in the sardonic waltz movement. Tilson Thomas obtained lush, bright toned playing from the excellent ensemble. The silky string tone emphasized the score's Hollywood genre. 

The concert concluded with The Messenger, a solo piano work by Silvestrov. The ethereal lightness of Feltsman's pianism was intoxicating. Haunting echoes of Mozart tinge Silvestrov's homage to the classical past as the sun rises on the dawn of musical New Russia. 

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