Sonically speaking, the 33-piece Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra is made to order for UIndy's Christel DeHaan Center. The hall affords just the right amount of bloom to optimize the group's richness and blend. Those acoustics especially heightened the impact of William Bolcom's Symphony No. 3 (Symphony for Chamber Orchestra, 1979), the concert opener. The Seattle-born, 74-year-old American composer was present for a three-day UIndy/ICO residency culminating in this public Saturday evening concert, conducted by ICO music director Kirk Trevor.
Cast in four movements, the 35-minute symphony impresses as a mix between being programmatic and absolute (i.e. with and without extra-musical allusions). Between a first and last movement titled "Alpha" and "Omega," bookending a "Scherzo vitale" and a "Chiaroscuro," I seemed to hear the evocation of a beginning and an end - of life, of existence, of a process - who knows? The piece starts and finishes with the higher strings softly bowing in harmonics and an absence of rhythm, suggesting something celestial or ethereal in nature.
For most of the symphony, we heard a mostly tonal section, betraying pseudo pop figurations in common time, blending into an avant-gardism rather dominated by a well-amplified electronic keyboard instrument mostly striking one note at a time, each one perhaps denoting a signal event. There are hints of bleakness in slight references to Sibelius's Fourth Symphony. I found the piece moving, well instrumented and played with a good measure of polish. Bolcom walked on stage, receiving a warm applause for his 33-year-old work.
Following the break, Trevor returned to conduct Grieg's too-little-presented treasure: Two Elegiac Melodies for string orchestra, Op. 34 (1881). Lasting less than ten minutes, it is a smile-through-tears forerunner to the Norwegian composer's Holberg Suite, Op. 40, written four years later. Trevor had his strings well burnished for evoking Grieg's moods.
When you see a composer's name like Jan Václev Voříšek, you assume he must be living, "or I would have heard of him." Not so, this time: Voříšek, a native of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), lived from 1791 to 1825, right at the height of Classicism's transition to Romanticism, almost an exact contemporary of Schubert and almost as short lived.
And we heard Trevor conclude his program with Voříšek' Symphony in D, Op. 24 (1821), written just a year before Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, with nowhere near the latter's profundity. But we hear more Schubert - with hints of Mendelssohn than we do Haydn, its two middle movements in B minor and D minor respectively. This was a new work for Trevor; he had to use a score to get through it - and thus got less precision from his players than he had a month ago for his Beethoven Fourth, a work he could probably conduct in his sleep. Oct. 27 at the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center at the University of Indianapolis