Saturday, November 1, 2014

concert review: Mission Chamber Orchestra

The little mid-range amateur orchestra-that-could put on a Halloween-themed concert at le petit Trianon. No Danse Macabre, no Night on Bald Mountain! Their choice of scary or creepy music included Beethoven's scariest overture, Coriolan; de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, which conductor Emily Ray described as "basically movie music"; and Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette, a piece I doubt I'd ever heard in concert before.

Works by two local composers filled out the half. David Holmes has set the lyrics to the spooky 19C English play Death's Jest-Book by Thomas Lovell Beddoes,* strophic stuff that, judging from tonight's excerpts, should work terrifically in a stage production; it's that kind of music. The songs were sung loudly and clearly, but with a heavy Korean accent, by tenor Woojeong Lee.

Then there were two seasonal pieces for strings by Durwynne Hsieh: "Midnight Ride" (as in the Headless Horseman rather than Paul Revere) and "March of the Candidates" - for yes, it's that season too. Of their juxtaposition, Hsieh remarked in his introduction that "both involve people dressing up in costumes and pretending to be someone they're not."

He also remarked that he likes writing for strings alone because it gives the same effect as a black-and-white film: the contrasts are starker and the shadows deeper. I wish I'd had a chance to meet him and tell him that this is pretty much the same reason Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for Psycho for strings. And, indeed, "Midnight Ride" sounded a lot like Herrmann's music, though not like Psycho in particular. "March of the Candidates" was an offbeat jaunt more like Henry Cowell meets Charles Ives, two composers who in life met frequently, so it's no oddity to have them meet again.

The second half included Schumann's Piano Concerto with a really fine young pianist named Soheil Nasseri. He was utterly professional. The orchestra managed pretty well in the outer movements, but wandered off on intonations of their own in the Intermezzo.

*I thought for a bit that I'd heard of him before, but I was thinking of Thomas Love Peacock.

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