From Grieg to Grau, Boston Landmarks Orchestra offers a lively, colorful panorama

August 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

By Stefanie Lubkowski

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra performed the world premiere of "Elements" Thursday night, a collaboration between composer Gonzalo Grau (above) and student composers from Zumix.

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra performed the world premiere of “Elements” Thursday night, a collaboration between composer Gonzalo Grau (above) and student composers from Zumix.

Despite the day’s heat, Boston Landmarks Orchestra attracted quite a crowd Thursday night for its “Lollapalooza” program at the Hatch Shell in Boston (rescheduled due to rain from its original Wednesday date).  While the tropical weather may be to blame for some lackluster moments, conductor Christopher Wilkins and the ensemble provided ample excitement with this eclectic concert.

The program opened with John Adams’ Lollapalooza, six minutes of propulsive rhythms beginning in the bassoon and building to a multilayered tapestry of rhythm and timbres. While Wilkins started off at a sluggish pace, the orchestra soon picked up momentum. Their crisp delivery kept the repetitions fresh and commanded the audience’s attention right up to the abrupt ending.

The orchestra moved into more familiar territory with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Wilkins gave the solemn opening motto a rounded dynamic shape that steered clear of the overwrought emotion often associated with Tchaikovsky. While the ensemble clearly has a command of the Romantic aesthetic and beautifully navigated the larger structural shifts from lyrical to more assertive themes, some of the subtler phrase delineations were sloppy. This held true in the final movement with its further development of the opening motto. 

In the beautiful Andante cantabile, Wilkins’ gentle touch lacked some expressive intensity, but it gave ample room for Kevin Owens’ exquisite horn solo. The ensuing Waltz had its  charm, succumbed to the lack of focus in phrasing and balance that plagued the first and final movements.

The second half began with another rhythmic crowd-pleaser, Gershwin’s Strike up the Band Overture. Wilkins deftly led the orchestra through quick changes in tempo and meter while keeping the mood light.

Elements, the centerpiece of the evening, is the product of a collaboration between Venezuelan composer Gonzalo Grau, and students of Zumix, the East Boston music program. This world premiere performance featured Grau, four student musicians who co-composed the piece, and a chorus of their fellow Zumix students.

Elements began with a literal bang from the percussion section before moving through tense string tremolos toward an expansive theme from the bass clarinet and string section. This first section, titled “Earth,” featured co-composer, vocalist, and pianist Angelina Botticelli, whose expressive delivery and flexible sense of rhythm and harmony propelled the song past typical pop music into something special.

Sebastian Jaramillo’s purely instrumental “Water” section opened with an enticing collage of rain sticks, pizzicato strings, and water gongs, and unfolded into an attractive soundscape driven by arpeggios and culminating in waves of sound subsiding into the hum of whirled tubes. Irisbel Rojas’ contribution to Elements, “Air,” fell solidly in a singer-songwriter aesthetic with some lovely, plaintive moments joining her voice with the chorus.

Like the opening of Elements, Justin Garcia’s “Fire” began with an explosion of percussion, followed by a sinister contrabassoon theme. Justin’s initial spoken word section, backed by the full orchestra, was not entirely convincing. As soon as he abandoned prose and launched into a driving, poetic rap over an accompaniment of dry, staccato timbres, “Fire” came alive for a rousing conclusion that almost rendered the coda and its recap of previous sections unnecessary.

Boston Landmark Orchestra’s “Lollapaloozaconcluded with a solid performance of five selections from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, featuring soprano Jayne West in “Solveig’s Song” and “Solveig’s Cradle Song”. The set began with a very satisfying “Morning Mood,” swelling from the clear tones of flute and oboe to a lush full orchestra sound. Jayne West’s voice fared best during the high melismatic refrain of “Solveig’s Song,” but in the middle range verses of both songs, her vibrato was a little too wide to soothe. In between, the orchestra gave a performance of “Anitra’s Dance” that achieved a perfect level of momentum and delicacy.

For the finale, Boston Landmarks Orchestra launched into “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. As the familiar theme built up, the musicians of BABAM (Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians) and the Longy El Sistema Summer Academy entered into a boisterous antiphonal duet with the orchestra as they paraded, in bright colors and Christmas lights, from the back of the park to the bandstand. This rendition of Grieg’s most famous tune made wonderful use of the outdoor space at the Hatch Shell and brought the concert to a colorful close.

Posted in Performances

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