No better proof of repertoire choice relating to turnout was

demonstrated than in Friday's only weekend ISO concert. I'd guess that the Circle Theatre was

less than one-quarter filled for a single program (no weekend duplicates) featuring

Sibelius and Brahms bookending two new works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, 46, and

Caroline Shaw, 34, the latter a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2013. Guest conductor Edwin Outwater was joined by Shaw

and soprano Shara Worden.

In keeping with all major symphony organizations' desire to

expand performing repertoire with the introduction of new works, and the

expected loss in attendance in programs dominated by them, it would seem

prudent to fit a single contemporary piece into a program of either warhorses

or "common practice" (1700 - 1930) works. This will help ensure each of these

new works the greatest possible exposure. It is clearly self-defeating to

inundate a program with new works if exposure is what is desired.

In Friday's program, Snider's offering came first, Three songs from her incidental music to Unremembered: 1. The Guest - 2. The Swan

- 3 The Witch. These

three--out of 13--recall Snider's imaginative childhood. She introduced them, as she announced

from the stage, by singing Schubert's final song "Der Leiermann" from his late

written cycle Die Wintereise which

had inspired her, with the house and stage darkened, a spotlight trained on Worden

standing on the upper stage -- and a piano accompaniment. For the three Snider

songs, Worden returned to the podium, the lights returned, and she hooked

herself up to an amplifying system.

What to say about her singing? Whether intentional or not, her notes blended

with the orchestra's held tones such that she couldn't be clearly heard, even

with amplification. Vocally

Worden sings nearly "white" with an occasional trace of a light vibrato. The orchestra

tended to hold sustained notes while shifting rough harmonies beneath them. In short I found

myself unable to respond to these latter-day songs (while admiring the

former-day Schubert).

Not so with Caroline Shaw's following ISO commissioned Lo for Violin and orchestra, with Shaw

herself doing the violin solo. Though compositionally similar to the

Snider songs, Shaw's use of tonal harmonies made all the difference in my

response. Lo's three connected movements spun a

web of continuous lines over shifting harmonies filled with common and

not-so-common chords. The concerto featured a prominent use of the bass drum

without timpani (rather like Paganini's first violin concerto). As any piece of new

music should accomplish, this one revealed new beauties. Shaw's violin work was light as she

blended with her players without much contrast.

Outwater began the program with Sibelius's piece The Oceanides, one whose modal

inclinations recalled for me the composer's Sixth Symphony, but with the music

more continuous in its overlapping phrases. The concert ended with Brahms'

familiar Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, the theme being the St. Anthony Chorale from a Haydn woodwind quartet now thought to have been written by one

of his students. Both

works received routine, uneventful performances. Feb.



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