Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gordon Chin "Double Concerto"

Michael Stern and the KC Symphony continue to introduce new works to not only Kansas City but the musical world at large. From the opening concert's "The Enlightened" by Zhou Long, to "Purple Rhapsody" by Tower and then "Extremity of Sky" by Melinda Wagner, Stern and the Symphony have given us the opportunity to hear what some of the best contemporary composers have to offer. I have heard some grumbling from patrons about "all the scratchy modern crap" but these pretenders (they go to be seen and not to hear the music) would be happy only if the fare were nothing but Mozart or maybe Haydn.

But the real jewel of this series of new works so far is the Double Concerto by Gordon Chin. Chin is sadly unknown and unrecorded here in the US but the KC Symphony is about to change all that. This powerful, moving and colorful work was receiving only its second performance since its creation in 2002 and its premiere in February 2006. The news that the Symphony is to record the work (along with Chin's "Formosa Seasons") on the wonderful Naxos label is testimony to the excellence of the work and the new found stature and confidence of the orchestra.

The work consists of four lengthy and evocative movements, titled 1) Drifting Shadow, 2) A Flowering Sacrifice 3) Expectation and 4) Yearning: A Sweet Torture. The musical drama is created by an often competitive and occasionally co-operative dialogue between the soloists. In the performance, the cello (the part virtually owned by soloist Felix Fan) faced forward and the violin (equaled by Cho-Liang Lin, Chin wrote the piece for them)faced the cello. This arrangement visually aided the work's concept of the soloists in conflict and dialogue. The cello looked forward, ignoring the violin and the violin, never giving up in the attempt to make its point.

"Drifting Shadow" is a masterpiece of musical dialogue. In a simple ABA scheme, the soloists were of two minds and only rarely met in agreement. The orchestra commented sometimes with Mahlerian grandeur and sometimes spiky dissonance. The soaring violin melodies were especially Romantic in nature.

I was expecting "Flowering Sacrifice" with its scoring for "water bucket, and sheets of colored paper to be torn slowly" to be light on substance and long on gimmick. WRONG! This evocative nocturne was the highlight, although it was a bit long and repetitive. The paper was not a gimmick but added to the soft oriental tinged fabric. The paper torn to pieces, were then scattered by the percussionists, visually evoking the scattering of the flower petals. Too bad this can not be recreated in the recording as it adds greatly to the enjoyment of the piece. As appropriate to one mourning a death (or as Chin's description .."until the day we ourselves are united with the flowers at the altar")the soloists play one of the work's few unison passages in this movement.

"In Expectation" is joyful rondo with the tension somewhat alleviated. The finale returns to the conflict with pounding percussion contrasting and interrupting lyrical passages(a la Nielsen)from the soloists and rich Mahlerian and even Ravellian sounds from the orchestra. A sheer delight.

Chin is a composer that I hope to encounter again. He was present at the performance and genuinely appreciated the warm response to the piece. I would love to hear his symphonies and other works if they are as well crafted and communicative as the Double Concerto.

The concert included the Shostakovich 10th reviewed here on 4/1 and a thrilling "Leonore # 3" by Beethoven. The off stage trumpet calls in the overture were perfect in tone and presence. Absolute perfection!

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