Sunday, April 14, 2024

two new symphonies

I've been to hear the premiere performances of two new symphonies in the past week. It wasn't planned; it just worked out that way. I generally like symphonies; they're my favorite genre of music, and it pleases me when more are added to their number, particularly when they are themselves interesting works as these were.

The first was Lee Actor's Symphony No. 4, played by the Palo Alto Philharmonic, for which he's composer-in-residence. I reviewed this for the Daily Journal. As I mentioned in the review, his work occasionally reminds me of Shostakovich, of Rachmaninoff, of Nielsen, of Bruckner, and those are all good composers to sound like if you want to please me. It's not crass imitation, it's mostly just flashes of a turn of phrase.

The other was by Howard Qin, a Stanford senior undergraduate. I saw on the Music Dept. calendar that a free concert in their tiny recital hall would feature the premiere of a symphony, and that intrigued me enough to go. The hall was fairly packed, but I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only person there who didn't know the composer personally. He assembled a student orchestra of some 20 people, under his direction, to play this expansive but not over-long four-movement work depicting the seasons at Stanford. In the finale, two singers join the ensemble to intone the mottos of various universities.

That was the grandest movement; the other three all begin softly with just a few instruments and then build up. The themes are memorable, there is a decent amount of counterpoint, the whole has weight and movement. Despite the small numbers, the winds and brass tended to overbalance the strings, so more practice with orchestration is my only suggestion.

Also in the last week, I heard an all-Czech chamber music concert and reviewed it for SFCV. That was enjoyable, and even the ferocious attack on Janáček's Second Quartet worked in context.

And I went back to Stanford for another free concert; Christopher Costanza was playing the suites for unaccompanied cello by, no not J.S. Bach, but Benjamin Britten. These were written in the 1960s for Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Britten wrote quite a lot in those days. I was hoping the suites would be enlightening. Instead they were incomprehensible. Obviously interesting to play but I couldn't make anything out of them as a listener.

Costanza is the cellist of the St Lawrence String Quartet, the Stanford resident ensemble. His bio in the program for this concert refers to the recent release of "the final two SLSQ recordings." Final? So I guess that means they have no intention of ever replacing their violinist Geoff Nuttall, who died a year and a half ago, but will just go on as they have been: mentoring and teaching at Stanford, which is part of their job; and performing individually and as part of other chamber ensembles. Well, I can live with that, and in any case Nuttall was in truth irreplaceable.

No comments:

Post a Comment