"Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Masterworks series
Indiana History Center
Whoever thought a cell phone could be viewed as anything but an anathema in a classical concert? Well, Indy native David Baker, 75-year-old professor of jazz studies at IU, was persuaded that if you can’t beat ’em, then why not join ’em. Which is precisely what he did in introducing his Concertino for Cellular Phones and Orchestra (2006) to an Indiana History Center Basile Theater audience filled with kids last Saturday. The orchestra was, of course, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, with its 20-year music director Kirk Trevor. The cell phones were under the audience’s collective ownership.
It took some 10 to 15 minutes for Trevor to explain to the audience — split in halves and cued by on-stage staff members opening and closing flags, green for the left side and red for the right, as signals — when to ring and when to stop. In addition, IU jazz instructor Alex Noppe added his own “phony” timbres from on stage by playing various ring tones held close to a microphone. These tended to overwhelm the audience’s mass, tinkly emanations.
Baker’s score contains his inevitable jazz elements, in addition to incorporating quotes from the classics, such as Brahms Fourth Symphony, Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, Rimsky’s Scheherazade and Rossini’s William Tell Overture (its Finale only, of course). The effect was something of a hodge-podge for someone looking for a profound emotional experience. I wasn’t, and neither, I would guess, were the lion’s share of listeners. Let’s view this program-opener as a novel entertainment.
Stephen Beus, a Max I. Allen Classical Fellow of the American Pianists Association, then appeared for Benjamin Britten’s Young Apollo for Piano, String Quartet and String Orchestra, Op. 16 (1939). Opening with a cascade of upsweeping scales, Beus played with command and control while the strings did a well-polished job with this brief Britten sampler.
Continuing in our 20th century (or later) vein, Beus again showed his keyboard command in Peanuts Gallery for Piano and Orchestra by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich — about a decade-old work. This evokes the famous Charles M. Schultz characters of the Peanuts comic strip. It starts with “Schroeder’s Beethoven Fantasy,” using, of all pieces, the opening of Beethoven’s monumental “Hammerklavier” Sonata in a quixotic way. Succeeding pieces display the other Schultz characters in very accessible material, with “Hammerklavier” appearing again at the end.
Trevor followed with an orchestration of Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite, ending with that perpetual preparatory piece for “peanut”-aged piano players, “Gollywog’s Cakewalk.”
In a sense, it seemed out of place for the ICO to conclude with Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony (No. 36 in C, K. 425), but Trevor and his players did a good enough job with it to vindicate themselves.