ISO's James Beckel debuts work at Palladium 

click to enlarge Composer and ISO trombonist James Beckel
  • Composer and ISO trombonist James Beckel

It was the Concerto for Brass and Orchestra which led the way through Friday's captivating concert with our music director Krzysztof Urbański returning to the north-venued podium of Carmel's five-year-old Palladium in the Center for the Performing Arts.   The concert repeats Saturday back home at the Circle Theatre and Sunday at the Avon High School performing arts center.  But it was those attending the Palladium who heard it first.

ISO trombonist James Beckel's Brass Concerto is another in a long line of his compositions, some having premiered elsewhere, many in these environs.  The work sparkles with energetic rhythms and tonal colors, some of them suggesting, but not imitating Copland and Bernstein.  Urbański managed it well. 

As the three-movement work began, four horns occupied the left upper-stage box while a tuba, three trombones and three trumpets were stationed on the right one.  As the work progressed, these eleven players moved to the middle of the upper stage--and so remained till the first movement's conclusion where they easily competed with the rest of the orchestra, countering it in true concerto fashion.

Before the second movement started, the brass/horn complement moved down to sit with their cohorts in the orchestra, wherein they blended with the strings, and where a fifth hornist joined them.  Beckel had his work well balanced, with the many percussive effects not overbearing, as with many contemporary symphonic works.  My only caveat is that the woodwinds were mostly inaudible--yet there they were blowing away.  It's hard to predict the lasting course of any new work, but some of Beckel's compositions appear to stand as good a chance as any.

click to enlarge ISO concertmaster Zach De Pue
  • ISO concertmaster Zach De Pue

Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto seems to be the vehicle, at least here in Indy, for concertmasters.  Last November we heard the ICO's Emily Glover, recently appointed to that post, play it. This time it was the ISO's Zach De Pue.   With its two slow, lyric movements, followed by a display of Modernist energy, the concerto nicely showcased De Pue's talents, singing in the first two, dazzling in the finale and showing nice tonal control throughout.

Rounding out the concert in a lighter vein, Urbański presented all eight of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, pieces which made him famous when he first produced them in 1878 as piano duets.  Far more inspired than with his early symphonies (1 through 4), the Bohemian composer seemed at home in the Gypsy folk music styles of his homeland.  Such styles as the Furiant, the Dumka, the Polka, the Sousedská and the Skočná enabled Dvořák great variety in the dances' presentation.  And Urbański had his players well primed to deliver them.

Not having attended the Palladium recently, I must comment on its improved acoustics, with the addition of curtains surrounding the top two tiers from the Gallery to the upper-stage seating.  This addition appears to have reduced the hall's reverberation time enough to maintain the instruments' resonance but not enough to allow their sounds to overlap.  Its "bass" response remains far better than the Circle's.  March 20; Carmel Palladium

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