New York Times: Young Musicians Play Bedtime Stories

July 6, 2009

The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra, a youth ensemble from California, is on an East Coast tour that brought it to Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday evening. As with many groups of its kind — the New York Youth Symphony, for example — this orchestra’s musicians are of high school age and younger. Though the program, founded in 1966, trains 125 performers in five ensembles, the configuration that visited New York was a string orchestra, 35 strong.

Benjamin Simon, its music director since 2002, conducted. But the real drawing card was the cellist Matt Haimovitz, who spent most of the program’s first half as soloist. Mr. Haimovitz had a sentimental reason for this generosity, as an alumnus of the program. He was also there on family business: the first of the two works he performed was “Max’s Moon” (2007), a colorful quasi-concerto by his wife, the composer Luna Pearl Woolf.

Ms. Woolf’s piece was inspired by two children’s books, Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” and Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon,” but it is more painterly than narrative. The first of its two movements, with its high-energy, sliding cello lines, evokes the mischievousness of Max, Mr. Sendak’s hero. And the Neo-Classical finale, etched in graceful, slow-motion chord progressions that underpin more introspective cello writing, hints at the bedtime ritual described in “Goodnight Moon.”

Mr. Haimovitz’s other contribution was a vital, rich-toned account of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, in a string orchestra arrangement by Heinrich Klug. It takes a moment to get used to hearing the piece in this expanded form, but once you surrender to it, it has a certain charm. And the young musicians gave it a magnified but never overstated reading.

That is not to say that overstatement has been drilled out of them. Mr. Simon opened the concert with Mozart’s C minor Adagio and Fugue (K. 546), and on the theory that a curtain raiser is no place for delicacy, the orchestra produced a big, meaty sound that immediately caught the ear and announced its robustness and vigor, as well as an attractively polished veneer. Those same qualities, along with sumptuousness and depth, enlivened Josef Suk’s Serenade for String Orchestra (Op. 6).

The program also included a commissioned work, “Monsoon Season” (2009), by Stephen Feigenbaum, a 20-year-old student at Yale. As the title telegraphs, this piece whips up a gathering darkness and a violent storm.

Pictorialism is an art that Mr. Feigenbaum has not yet fully mastered: the storm peters out pretty quickly in the finale. (In fairness, the ensemble’s energy seemed to fail it here.) But you can hear a distinctive voice taking shape.

by Allan Kozinn

View article at New York Times

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