I heard the second concert of week two for the Bernstein Festival with the Philadelphia Orchestra last night.
1. The concert began with a spirited reading of Bernstein's Symphony #1. Whenever I hear this work, I ask myself why I don't hear it more often. It is the excellent work of a young musician and a look at the potential of this great composer. Rinat Shaham was stunning, in her performance and in her passion! She couldn't keep still in her chair in front of the orchestra, swaying to the music and rhythm. When she finally did sing, it was exquisite.
2. Jennifer Higdon's The Singing Rooms followed. I died there in Verizon Hall, because Higdon's music and Jennifer Koh's playing were heavenly. The combination of solo violin, orchestra and chorus was perfectly set, with sections allowing each to shine, and to combine for the greatest music I have ever heard.
3. The Singing Rooms consists of seven movements played attaca (back to back without pause) and while they are seemless, they depict the action of walking around a house, starting in the morning, with singing going on in the rooms, and returning back to that first room at the end of the day. Higdon treats the lush poetry by Jeanne Minahan well, and the singing from the Philadelphia Singers Chorale was well done.
4. Jennifer Koh is my hero. She commissioned this work, and also Higdon's String Poetic (a work I am performing a movement this March for Composing Thoughts Live) and I've heard a solo violin work may be in the works for Koh by Higdon as well, making a Higdon violin trilogy (maybe it could be titled TRILLOGY? hahaha) for Koh. This is historic, like the collaboration between Joachim and Brahms, or Stravinsky and Dushkin. I'm so happy to have heard this first performance.
5. The variation and innovation of Higdon's work is tremendous, especially considering a week before, Concerto 4-3 was premiered, and that another Violin Concerto is being written for another former Curtis student, Hilary Hahn.
As for the Singing Rooms, rhythm, orchestration and musical taste were at highpoints. Never was there a moment that you weren't engaged, although there were two tiny moments where you had problems hearing the soloist with all the forces playing.
Performances of Hai-Ye Ni, principal cellist; and concertmasters David Kim and Juliette Kang accented lyric and virtuosic lines of Koh's solo parts. An extended section with Ni was out of this world.
I can't recommend highly enough that you go hear this work, and if you are anyone involved with programming orchestra repertoire, to put this work on your programs. The curtain calls had the audience wanting more!
Read my friend and coworker Dick Strawser's eloquent account of this premiere here.
Hear an interview with Jennifer Higdon here about this work, and learn about a chance to meet Higdon and learn more about her music here.