Sunday, November 21, 2021

Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra: Celebration of an imperiled planet through music

 "Celebrating Mother Earth" is an old-fashioned title for a program very much focused on the present.

Reinaldo Moya, commissioned composer
The Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra put together a couple of modern pieces to represent attitudes toward the nature that we are called to be familiar with, and anchored the unfamiliar in the familiar with a classic covering a basic fact of the natural world: seasonal change. It was "The Four Seasons," the durable set of violin concertos by the Italian baroque master Antonio Vivaldi.

Saturday night's concert at Butler University's Schrott Center opened with a commissioned work, "Dark Earth: Anthropogenic Amazon," by Reinaldo Moya, a 36-year-old native of Venezuela, US-trained as a composer and now living in Minnesota. It's a shame the composer's program notes were not in the printed program; nor was there any talk about the work from the stage. You can read about the piece's significance and the procedure Moya followed in creating the piece with a video artist, Mike Halerz, here.

Moya's music cleverly mixes human cultural expression through Brazilian music against the challenge nature faces as the Amazon rain forest diminishes with overdevelopment. It takes the form of ranching that involves removing great swaths of the Amazon for the sake of pasture. The huge natural phenomenon of what nature has provided there has led to its being called "the world's lungs." The balance against decline in the global atmosphere is maintained by the Amazon rain forest, and its shrinkage is much more than a Brazilian problem. 

Moya drew upon three styles of Brazilian music to stand for the expansive human culture that challenges the purity of the rain forest. The music was accompanied by a coordinated riot of abstract and occasionally "magic-realist" imagery, projected on a screen above the orchestra as Matthew Kraemer conducted the piece. Incompatible elements in the music are boldly juxtaposed as a deliberate way of addressing the crisis of anthropogenic change and what humanity inherited as essential to life. Hearing the work was an adventure into all of our future through a part of the present that is easy to overlook.

A more pristine part of the natural world is saluted in "Canticus Arcticus" (Concerto for Birds and Orchestra), by the late Einojuhani Rautavaara. The orchestra's role in the three-movement work seems to take cues from the bird calls recorded near the Arctic Circle town of Liminka, Finland. The most conventional imitation of songbirds is the flute, so it's natural that a flute duet gets things started in "Canticus Arcticus." The partnership is further exploited in the second movement, titled "Melancholy," and the real opening of Rautavaara's vision comes in the finale, based on swan migration. In the collective majesty of massive bird movement, it's not surprising that a tumult eventually emerges in the music. It was well represented in Saturday's performance: it was a man-nature confrontation thoroughly in the mood of celebration, and took the listener to a corner of the settled world that still seems dominated by nonhuman presence.

For all its familiarity, "The Four Seasons" tends to bring out personal characteristics of the violin soloist. Richard Lin, gold medalist in the 2018 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, came back to town for an incandescent performance of Vivaldi's concerto set. 

Richard Lin showed his gold-medalist status.

In relation to the concert's theme, it's clear that this is a view of Mother Earth that's generally accommodating. Cold temperatures cause shivers, it's true, and the rising mercury enervates. The fall harvest encourages dancing and a tendency to tipsiness; winter brings chances to lose your footing on the ice, no matter how gingerly you step. All this is colorfully, sometimes comically, depicted in Vivaldi's magnum opus. 

Most notably, there is the summer thunderstorm. It was rendered with torrential impact in Saturday's performance, tempting me to start the applause, as the "Summer" concerto had thus concluded. I think applause should have been actively encouraged at the end of each "Four Seasons" concerto, and I'm not among the advocates of applause between movements. But the four concertos each have integrity as units, and some acknowledgment seemed warranted three times before the final ovation. Instead, the near-capacity audience sat soberly still, as if between sections of the Mass in B minor.

The coordination between the soloist and the accompaniment, scrupulously guided and with equal enthusiasm by Kraemer, was first-rate, with hardly an unsynchronized jiggle. This was a "Seasons" for all seasons, it seemed to me. It had character and variety, some of it imparted by the soloist's deft feeling for ornamentation. Much of the credit for the performance's full-bodiedness must go the harpsichordist, Thomas Gerber, unacknowledged in the program book but at the end given a solo bow at Lin's instigation.

The guest soloist responded to the ovation with "Polish Capriccio," a solo-violin piece previously unknown to me by the Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969). Its fitfully lyrical, sometimes ferocious progress made it an unconventional but somehow fitting follow-up to Vivaldi's year-spanning concerto set.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the review. I'm sharing the program notes and some recorded interviews with Reinaldo.

    Moya's Program Notes -
    Interview with Moya -
    Reinaldo and Matthew hosted a chat in the hall at 6:45 last night, sorry you missed it.