RUSSIAN ORCHESTRA PLAYS MUSIC OF AMERICAN COMPOSER
By Lawrence Budmen
John Corigliano (1938- ) is one of the most successful living American composers. His First Symphony - written in response to the AIDS epidemic - has become an American classic. Corigliano's first attempt at opera "The Ghosts of Versailles" was given the star treatment at its Metropolitan Opera premiere and was well received. He has composed successful wind concertos for clarinet and flute - "The Pied Piper Fantasy" commissioned by James Galway. With his rich sense of instrumental color and penchant for neo-romanticism, Corigliano has inevitably been courted by Hollywood. His first effort there was the score for British director Ken Russell's science fiction epic "Altered States." (The composer has revised the music as a concert suite.) More recently "The Red Violin" has provided Corigliano with the opportunity to compose a pastiche score that accompanies the movie's traversal of four centuries and several continents. The composer won the Academy Award in 2000 for Best Original Film Score. (The intricate solo part was originally written for Joshua Bell who played it on the film soundtrack.) Russian conductor Misha Rachlevsky has reconceived the music as a vehicle for the violin section of his Chamber Orchestra Kremlin. Rachlevsky's version of the Suite from "The Red Violin" was the centerpiece of an all Corigliano program by the Moscow based string ensemble on February 24 at the University of Miami's Maurice Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables - presented by the Friends of Chamber Music.
The music for "The Red Violin" runs the gamut from neo-Baroque to Paganini style pyrotechnics to soaring rhapsodic evocations. An eerie theme (symbolizing the travels of the red violin of the film's title) often gives way to lush string music in the manner of late Richard Strauss - overheated romanticism. A series of bracing violin etudes are the score's central focus. Rachlevsky assigns each of these fiendishly difficult solos to one of his players. Few ensembles could field a collection of violin virtuosos that could meet Corigliano's demands head on but Rachlevsky's players did that and more. Their brilliant technical aplomb, probing musicality, and darkly reverberant tonal shadings produced a veritable feast of great string playing. Beyond the brilliant solo work, the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra musicians reveled in the dark, brooding music of Corigliano's score. Rachlevsky conducted with passion and fiery intensity. "The Red Violin" is truly beautiful music - an instant contemporary classic! Rachlevsky and his players were rewarded by prolonged, enthusiastic applause for their wonderful performance.
Corigliano's "Symphony No.2" for String Orchestra won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Originally conceived as a string quartet for the farewell tour of the great Cleveland Quartet, the music is much more effective in its orchestral version. (Corigliano has extensively reorchestrated the voicing of the string parts from the original quartet version.) The third movement Nocturne is the work's heart and soul. This is "night music" in the Bartok manner - a kind of musical film noir. In the central episode Corigliano recreates the sound he experienced in Fez, Morocco when singers in Mosques all over the city alighted in musical prayers around 2:00 A.M. The sheer string sonority and thematic diversity is thrilling! The Prelude is an intricate introduction to the bristling Scherzo - music that is both playful and dissonant. An intricate, non linear Fugue is remarkable for its intellectual and technical rigor. Only the final Postlude is disappointing. After so much moving and riveting instrumental writing, the coda seems to fall apart and is ultimately unsatisfying. A fascinating but flawed work! Rachlevsky and his musicians gave the score an exciting performance. Clearly this conductor and orchestra have totally absorbed Corigliano's varied musical milieus.
The concert opened with Corigliano's "Voyage for String Orchestra" - a reworking of an earlier choral work. Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis" is clearly this work's antecedent. This is gorgeous music with a vaguely Old English sensibility. Sensuous string textures alternate with concertante interludes. The thematic material has an eternal sublimity in its afterglow. The Chamber Orchestra Kremlin played this memorable work con amore!
In an era of endless standard repertoire programs Misha Rachlevsky and his Moscow musicians presented a breath of musical fresh air. John Corigliano continues to create fascinating and often wonderful musical scores. Rachlevsky and his players clearly love his music. An outstanding meeting of American and Russian artists!