Breadth of chamber-orchestra genre reflected in ICO's 'Silenced Voices'

In 1936, about two years before the ghastly portent of Kristallnacht, a Nazi gang pulled down a statue of

2022 IVCI silver medalist solos in Mendelssohn.

Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig.

So, even though he lived and died long  before Germany's accelerating descent into anti-semitic madness, the North German composer from a distinguished Jewish family counts as one of the "Silenced Voices" saluted in the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra's concert Saturday night at Schrott Center.

Taken as a significant harbinger of the Holocaust, widespread vandalism that flared up when Jewish shops and synagogues were torched and smashed left shards of glass on pavements, inspiring the designation of "crystal night." Destroying the Mendelssohn monument had given notice that even assimilated Jews of great contributions to German culture would be destined for elimination if they didn't manage to escape.

Two other Jewish composers of historic importances in "Silenced Voices" had contrasting escapes: Franz Schreker died in middle age in 1934 after his career was hobbled by ascendant Nazism; Erich Wolfgang Korngold made a successful transition to Hollywood, where he contributed eminent scores to movies, starting with "The Adventures of Robin Hood," and survived until 1957. Of his variety of concert music, the most likely to be heard today is the Violin Concerto, which has had distinguished Indianapolis performances  from 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis gold medalist Jinjoo Cho, and in 2022, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra guest artist Stefan Jackiw.

ICO music director Matthew Kraemer led crisp, seductive performances of Schreker's "Kammersymphonie" (Chamber Symphony) and Korngold's "Straussiana." Like their different life trajectories, these two composers had different responses to modernism. Korngold cultivated fertile ground in late romanticism, which made hims a good fit for the emotional directness of the movies. "Straussiana" salutes the Waltz King, Johann Strauss Jr., and drew a warm ovation from Friday's audience, which had been merely respectful in response to the Schreker piece. 

Each composition displayed the high finish of the two composers. I was more completely drawn into the Schreker, with its varied flow of melody and shifting textures, and the burden it places on individual orchestral voices. The 20th century gave birth to fresh conceptions of chamber music, with new instrumental combinations. "Pierrot Lunaire" of Arnold Schoenberg (another voice silenced by Nazis, though he too escaped to America) blazed the path in 1912.  Schreker's "Kammersymphonie" has the glow of modernist innovation about it, while being cast in lush tonal language distributed around an ensemble full of solo players. The ICO was put on its mettle by the music, and came through well.

The 21st century was represented by Victoria Bond's "Anne Frank's Tree," commissioned by the ICO and performed with young narrator Sadie Cohen, capably speaking memorized words from the perspective of Anne Frank. The most famous Holocaust victim, she was a bright teenager who hid out with her family and others in Amsterdam in 1942 until their whereabouts were revealed to the German occupation authority, which sent them to the death camps. Anne looks out on a chestnut tree through the change of seasons and shares her hopeful outlook on life under duress; the music reflects her optimism even as it passes through weighty episodes of stress and worry. The triumphant cast of the orchestra's final statement was unmistakable.

Finally came Mendelssohn's most beloved major piece, the Violin Concerto in E minor, a perpetual calling card for every concert violinist and aspirant to that status. Rhee, who won the silver medal in the 2022 IVCI, launched into the first movement in a get-down-to-business manner somewhat lacking in personality and with a few slightly flat notes (a momentary flaw I noticed in the competition). 

But personality and tonal security came through brilliantly with the second theme, with a lovely transition set up by clarinet and flute. Then Rhee's performance caught fire, redeeming his ordinary start, in the cadenza. His trills coruscated, and the way he dug in projected his commitment to say something definitive of his own. His performance seemed thoughtful and well-considered from then on, and the precision with which he and the orchestra accelerated toward the end of the first movement was marvelously thrilling. The Andante sung out nobly, and the finale rekindled the first movement's fire. 

 For an encore, Rhee offered the Adagio from J.S. Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G minor, intense but poised throughout.

[Photo: Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra]


Popular posts from this blog

Actors Theatre Indiana romps through a farce — unusually, without a founder in the cast

DK's 'Divas A-New': What's past is prologue (so is what's present)

Seasonings of love: Indy Bard Fest's 'Angels in America' wrestles well with soaring and falling