Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Classical Series Program No. 6
Hilbert Circle Theatre
Young Brian Current seems to be one of the present-day definers of what is "current" in music. The 33-year-old Canadian composer debuted a piece here a year ago he called this isn't silence, a title we could heartily agree with at the time. Last weekend, Current returned once again for the debut performance of his 15-minute, Brigham Young U.-commissioned Symphonies in Slanted Time.
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra music director Mario Venzago opened with Copland's all-too-familiar, three-minute Fanfare for the Common Man - its familiarity reinforced by its previous performance here just a year and a half ago, both equally well-played. Venzago also gave the orchestra's first performance of Leonard Bernstein's Divertimento for Orchestra, written in 1980 for the Boston Symphony's centennial season.
However, the evening's big attraction featured veteran cellist Lynn Harrell returning to the ISO once more for Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104, a piece that brought down Friday's modest-sized house.
During the pre-concert Words on Music discussion, Current described his Slanted Time as containing a progressively accelerating pace within its instrumental textures, which evolves into new textures from different instruments picking up at half-tempo or perhaps quarter-tempo, then continuing the acceleration - then repeating the process, always with new textures, always speeding up. Hence the term "slanted time." Not that it matters, but I found that the piece has moments of slowing down. Not that it matters, but there are also pauses - as though to regroup before restarting the speedup. Not that it matters, but we heard intervals where I could discern no obvious tempo change.
What does matter is that Current offers a piece so cacophonously noisy that any tempo change, whether up or down, adds little or no interest to the material. Often the strings buzz like a beehive without a discernable pulse or pitch, covering everything else. Current produces a thick orchestral texture, the various ensembles not well-highlighted - even the percussion, which usually gets excessive prominence in new works. I agree that the notion of a piece constantly accelerating in time, using discernable thematic, harmonic and motivic material creates the potential for producing something novel, striking, noteworthy, memorable, enduring. With Slanted Time, Current provides only novelty.
Hearing Bernstein's ensuing Divertimento provided straight-up-and-down relief in a performance as nicely nuanced as Venzago's An American in Paris by Gershwin a week earlier. Cast in eight parts, the late American composer/conductor's somewhat quirky take on Americana shows through nicely in such parts as "Waltz," "Samba," "Turkey Trot" and "Blues" - with the attendant variation in projected moods, and excellently orchestrated at that.
Lynn Harrell has guested with ISO seemingly countless times over the past decades, and with each appearance he seemingly gets better. Certainly I've never heard Dvorak's "monumentally intimate" Cello Concerto any better played. Nor, for that matter, has any conductor kept his orchestra at bay any better than Venzago, always allowing Harrell's luscious tone to shine through. Kudos also go to acting concertmaster Philip Palermo for his well-played solo and duo with Harrell in the Finale. Coerced by thundering applause for an encore, Harrell offered a solo-cello arrangement of the famous flute reverie from Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice.