Review: Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra with Sean Chen 

****1/2
click to enlarge Sean Chen
  • Sean Chen

The Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra started its 30th season with a full slate — a world premiere, a fabulous soloist and a very accomplished music director candidate. And that's not to mention the orchestra, which was on top of its game.

First up was the world premiere of ICO composer-in-residence's James Aikman’s Peacemakers, Part 1, which began with a sitar-like drone. The piece was distinctly flavored with nostalgia and longing, its moments of unrest alternating with sections of sweetness. This installment of the piece — which will be presented in parts throughout the season — ended on a tense, almost foreboding note that left us looking forward to Part 2.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, the “Emperor,” followed, with 2013 American Pianists Association DeHaan Classical Fellow Sean Chen at the keys. There aren’t enough superlatives for this young man. Moments of bold intensity gave way to those of a gentle tenderness that was breathtaking at times. The orchestra echoed much of that sensitivity as well. Chen placed every note just so. The piano produces sound when hammers strike strings, but you wouldn’t know it with Chen. He played the piano like a wind instrument, as if breathing into it to create sounds. It was uncanny.

Chen came out for an encore, an arrangement of Franz Schubert’s Trout Quintet, by Leopold Godowsky, that was given the same insightful treatment. His playing was brilliant and impeccable, and I won’t be surprised when orchestras across the country start picking him up regularly.

Aaron Copland wrote soundtracks for movies, and some of those were incorporated into a suite, Music for Movies, which started the second half of the program. The program would have been full enough without this work, but it didn’t slow down the evening, especially not with the orchestra sounding as vibrant as ever.

The evening ended with a spirited reading of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, the “Italian Symphony." Music director candidate Kelly Corcoran demonstrated her skill and insight through the evening, but particularly distinguished herself conducting the Mendelssohn. Her direction was clear and concise, without ever going over the top.The orchestra hung on to her every instruction and cultivated a rich, deep sound.

One could perhaps attribute the depth of the orchestra's sound to the acoustically sensitive hall, but I'd prefer to give credit to the orchestra, which proved itself in terms of dynamics, phrasing, intonation. The ICO sounded as accomplished as I’ve ever heard it, and made quite the impression on the audience, which was happy to offer up a much-deserved standing ovation. What a way to open the season!

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