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ISSUE 118 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/13/2005

SPCO performs, night storms

By Rebecca Lofft
Staff Writer
and Lisa Gulya
Variety Editor

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO), conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, performed a program of contemporary music in Boe Chapel Thursday, May 5 to a sizeable crowd. Harth-Bedoya opened the concert with a forewarning that their program would be “rather non-traditional,” as it included a piece by 21st century English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and a suite by 20th century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.

As a thunderstorm began, the SPCO started off the night with Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” for Violin and Orchestra. Ruggero Allifranchini played the violin solo with an exquisite vocal quality, as if singing through the instrument.

Against the lush strings of the chamber orchestra, Ruggero’s clean, open tone sounded ethereal. Woodwinds, with sounds suggestive of water birds, ascended gracefully above the bed of strings as if emerging from a temperate rain. The tone of the poem was successfully evocative of an English marsh.

Harth-Bedoya remarked upon their second piece, Turnage’s “A Man Descending,” for Tenor Saxophone and Orchestra, calling it “somewhat a companion to ‘The Lark Ascending.’” Though as “The Lark Ascending” finishes by stretching skyward, “A Man Descending” is drawn downward, just as man is pulled by gravity and his own humanity.

Turnage, inspired by his Tanglewood mentor Gunther Schuller, the founder of the “Third Stream” fusion movement, often couples jazz and classical music. Turnage wrote the piece, which was co-commissioned by the SPCO, with saxophone soloist Joe Lovano in mind because of his soulful style.

With a foreboding tone well met in the rainy night, “A Man Descending” was highly unconventional in both its fusion of genres and the large amount of improvisation required by the soloist.

Supported by a mix of sheer strings and eerie percussion effects on tam-tam, the piece’s overall mood fit the evening nicely. Lovano’s impeccable intonation and range impressed many listeners. “His intonation was ridiculously good,” Benjamin Kulp ’05 said.

Lovano’s last note, a deeply rich tone, was especially chilling as it reverberated around Boe Chapel. “I think it really fit Boe,” Erin Adler ’06 said in response to Turnage’s piece. “It just filled [the Chapel] up from back to front.”

Surprising to many, “A Man Descending” was repeated in performance, played first as written in the score and again after intermission, this time with improvisation. This repetition allowed first time listeners to better familiarize themselves with the piece while enjoying Lovano’s mastery a second time.

After the meditative mood set by “A Man Descending,” the crowd was reenergized by the performance of Manuel de Falla’s “El amor brujo (Love, the Magician).” Originally a ballet, this concert suite has gained great popularity, and the “Ritual Fire Dance” is a highly recognizable tune.

The piece started off in fiery Spanish character. Mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips, a recent addition to the Metropolitan Opera, was the essence of Spanish vivacity, bedecked in shimmering maroon and black. In the challengingly low range of the “Song of Love’s Sorrow,” she was unfortunately overshadowed by the orchestra, but they balanced nicely in later movements.

Like any good story, the parts of this piece flowed seamlessly unless a pause was intentionally placed. The audience responded enthusiastically to this concert-closer, and Harth-Bedoya had to wave them away after his third return to the stage.





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