Contemporary works upstage Tchaikovsky in Parlando opener

Thu Oct 05, 2023 at 12:47 pm
By John Hohmann
Violinist Adé Williams and cellist Gabriel Cabezas were soloists in Jimmy Lopez’s Guardians of the Horizon, with Ian Niederhoffer conducting Parlando Wednesday night. Photo: Fay Fox Studios.

Parlando, the razor-sharp chamber orchestra that exudes the joy of music-making in cozy Merkin Hall, opened its fourth season Wednesday night with a thematic program titled “Odysseys.”

According to founder and music director Ian Niederhoffer, the three works on the menu were as much about the return as the journey itself. The lineup comprised Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence set against two contemporary pieces by young composers, Joey Roukens and Jimmy Lopez.

By now audiences are familiar with and indeed anticipate Niederhoffer’s deft and illuminating comments before each piece. The young conductor invented  the “chili pepper” rating system—to outline the degree of listening difficulty rather than spiciness—yet Niederhoffer’s presentation invariably takes the heat off any listening challenges. 

Rouken’s Visions at Sea proved a stunning opener. The Dutch composer’s piece evokes still waters, churning seas and a fateful storm, interspersed with old sea shanties. There were virtuosic passages throughout the orchestra and Rouken shows real compositional skill, moving in and out of the shanties and back to his own music, abruptly at first and then with increasingly complex subtlety, bridging tonality with atonality and the present and ancient. 

Violinist Adé Williams and cellist Gabriel Cabezas joined the orchestra for Lopez’s Guardians of the Horizon, a composition with allusions to the ancient Sphinx, the symbol of strength, wisdom and resilience. Here the solo violin and cello play as one, creating a kind of super instrument; at other times they act as rivals in what the Peruvian composer termed a competition for dexterity and endurance. Williams and Cabezas premiered the piece in 2017, and were passionate communicators not only with each other but with the supportive orchestra who played with precision and verve under Niederhoffer.

By comparison Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence felt a bit shopworn Wednesday night in this version for large ensemble. The performance was full of bubbling energy and splendidly played waltz sequences but it felt more like a retreat than a journey.

That said it is impressive what thundering sound this string orchestra can muster. There were gorgeous exchanges between concertmaster Joel Lambdin and principal cellist Diana Golden, making one think this piece would have been still more effective had it been played in its original sextet version.

Parlando’s next concert takes place 3 p.m. December 3. The program includes Milhaud’s Le Bœuf sur le toit, Korngold’s Much Ado about Nothing Suite and Saariaho’s Graal Théâtre with violinist Geneva Lewis.

John Hohmann has served as an arts administrator, film critic, college professor, marketing executive and award-winning producer of musical and storytelling programs for children. For the past five years he has reviewed opera, vocal and symphonic performances. As executive director of Artrain, a national touring museum, he conceived of The Music of Art, a visual exhibition with live music component, celebrating the tercentenary of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. 

Leave a Comment

" "


 Subscribe via RSS