New music builds bridges with populist flair at Boston Landmarks concert

August 10, 2017 at 11:31 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Christopher Wilkins conducted the Boston Landmarks Orchestra Wednesday night.

Christopher Wilkins conducted the Boston Landmarks Orchestra Wednesday night.

Every summer, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra presents new works by young composers. Recent seasons have brought fresh and rewarding pieces by Stella Sung, Gonzalo Grau, and Kareem Roustom to audiences at the Hatch Shell.

That trend continued Wednesday night when Christopher Wilkins and the Landmarks Orchestra delivered the world premieres of two new works by Roustom and Grau.

Grau wears many hats as a musician. His work in Latin jazz and salsa, in particular, has earned him a Grammy nomination, and he has collaborated with Osvaldo Golijov on the recording of La Pasión Según San Marcos and other projects. Grau’s concert music is just as wide-ranging, frequently combining popular and classical elements.

For Views, heard Wednesday night, Grau was less a composer than guide and orchestrator. The piece was composed by four East Boston teenagers—Angelina Botticelli, Mario Duenas, Juan Gutierrez, and Mario Jarjour—collectively known as Wild Painting. The music, with its pop influence, has a charm and optimism that reflect the lyrics, which deal with themes of contemporary youth: pressure, passion, and activism.

Scored for three singers, two guitars, drum set, piano, and orchestra, Views combines the lyricism and tunefulness of a film score with passages of steady rock. The young performers of ZUMIX, which included the composers, sang and played with vibrancy and bluesy swagger when called upon. Wilkins and the orchestra supplied powerful and shimmering accompaniment to make a strong case for the piece.

Kareem Roustom’s Aleppo Songs, also heard in its premiere Wednesday night, received a performance of similar energy. Moved by the culture and architecture of that war-torn Syrian city, Aleppo Songs is based upon folk and popular tunes from the region. The first of its three movements sets a melody by Sayed Darwish against a bright and colorful orchestral tapestry.

Piccolo trumpet and chattering woodwinds add flourishes to the radiant melody heard in the strings. In the third piece of the set, a stirring theme winds its way through the orchestra before building into sweeping phrases. The second movement transforms an Antiochian hymn into a haunted soundscape. Through it all, Wilkins led the orchestra in committed playing that provided bold advocacy to the composer’s work.

Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony reflected her own community, Irish-American Boston. But this bold and beautiful score doesn’t receive many performances in her home city these days. Wilkins and the Landmarks Orchestra remedied that neglect in part by offering the Scherzo from the work Wednesday night.

The performance was stellar. After a warm French horn solo set the tone from the movement, a keening oboe rendered a traditional Irish theme with grace and beauty. The quick section that followed is a variation on the theme and it featured winds and strings in playing of dexterity. The resulting music moved as if a dance. Hopefully, the Landmarks Orchestra, an ensemble known for its wide-ranging repertoire, can program Beach’s entire symphony in the future.

The bulk of Wednesday’s program featured Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, itself a reflection of the distinct worlds of Brahmsian lyricism and Bohemian folk music.

Wilkins, conducting from memory, led a performance that was both incisive and flexible. Tuttis sounded with precision, and the tempos changes that mark the outer movements flowed together seamlessly. In the second movement, the woodwinds and strings played with the verve of a village band, and the third movement’s waltz seemed to lift off the ground. Brilliant trumpet calls signaled the dance to come in the finale. And dance the music did. The gently rollicking theme took off with roiling energy in the movement’s climaxes.

The opener, Sibelius’ popular Finlandia, was equally powerful. The Landmarks brass supplied bite to the quick sections of the work. The strings sounded smoky and dark in their featured passages, and the hymn tune seemed to float over the Hatch Schell’s stage.

Capping off a night of tuneful music was a blazing account of Arturo Márquez’s Danzon No. 2. This popular and zesty Mexican tune featured the young students of the Boston String Academy, who played with flair and precision. As the musicians took their bows, it was evident how music can bring different communities together.

As an encore, Wilkins led the Landmarks Orchestra in a rousing version of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 8.

The Longwood Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Strauss, Jr. 7 p.m. Wednesday at the DCR Hatch Shell.

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