Saturday, June 16, 2012

concert review: New Millennium Chamber Orchestra

Half an hour after KDFC flipped the switch on its new South Bay station, this new local non-pro band began its first concert, consisting of the kind of pieces that had occupied the placeholder tape that had been running on the radio the last few weeks, though I didn't hear any of these particular pieces there. There were three B's: Bach's Brandenburg No. 1, the biggest and most orchestral of the set; Beethoven's foreboding Egmont Overture; and Brahms's academic Haydn Variations. For lighter interludes, there were Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte, the first suite of Respighi's Renaissance-music-with-added-sugar Ancient Airs and Dances, and Copland's Variations on a Shaker Melody (the "Simple Gifts" part of Appalachian Spring.

The venue was the Trinity Presbyterian Church, perched on top of a hill somewhere in deepest San Carlos. I've been there before, for a Masterworks Chorale concert. The benches are uncomfortably hard, and the high-built wooden and plaster space with a wide transept gives an echoing acoustic, very forgiving for an amateur orchestra.

Which they found useful. A step below the Redwood Symphony, but above, say, the Mission Chamber Orchestra, in professional chops, the NMCO reminded me in quality of the defunct St. Peter's CO that used to play in these parts. (And a little research, had I time to dig it out, would reveal if any of the players were the same.) Wobbly intonation in all sections, yes, and ensemble liable to go shaky at times. Practice and experience will help with these, as it will with balance problems: the winds and brass tend to overwhelm the strings.

There were distinct virtues, also. Mostly together and able to express the feel of the music in solid, basic performance style, giving distinctly different tones from the weight of Beethoven and Bach on the one hand and the lightness of Ravel and Respighi on the other. The soloists from the orchestra in the Bach were consistently good. The Brahms began formally with separation rather than flow between the sections, but managed to build itself up into a grand and impressive conclusion. That was the last piece in the concert, and a good way to end.

Conductor James Richard Frieman, who looks rather as if he should be fronting a 70s retro rock band, kept the orchestra together, and gave brief talks about each piece before it began, suggesting that Ravel gave his Pavane its full title because he liked saying the words infante défunte.

A second concert will be held this fall sometime, but hasn't yet been scheduled. The bottom line is that, if you live in the area and want to hear some good music nearby, reasonably played, for not much money, NMCO is here.

One other thing I found that it has in common with the St. Peter's Chamber Orchestra's consistent practice is that the people at the table selling tickets have no idea if there is a comp list. But they are, likewise, friendly all the same.

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