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Chamber Skills & Thrills

By Andrew Wong

Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra; Scott Yoo, Music Director

Pavanes & Symmetries by Dan Coleman, Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, The American Seasons by Mark O’Connor; Elizabeth Ostling, flute; Mark O’Connor, Violin

Jordan Hall, April 29, 2001

On Sunday evening, the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra gathered in Jordan Hall to deliver an emotionally charged final performance of the season. The program wrapped up a phenomenal concert season with high quality musicianship and an eclectic repertoire.

Metamorphosen, a group of aspiring string musicians, has given four concerts this year, all of which have demonstrated the power of combining talented musicians for a string orchestra. The orchestra maintains its freshness for every performance by rotating members’ positions in an almost random sequence between pieces. This practice, similar to that of European orchestras, not only demonstrates the musical prowess of each player, but also maintains a homogeneous mixture of quality throughout the section.

The night opened with the world premiere of Dan Coleman’s Pavanes & Symmetries. Coleman, composer-in-association of Metamorphosen and winner of the Aaron Copland Award, composed the piece specifically for flutist Elizabeth Ostling, the soloist that night. The piece opens with a mysterious cadenza that is supported by a “rustling” section in the strings. Much of the piece is written for the lower range of the flute, but Ostling maintained clarity and expressiveness in bringing out the delicate pavane theme.

The next piece, Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss (the work after which the chamber orchestra is named) seemed to almost degrade the pastoral setting laid by Coleman with dark clouds of mourning. Strauss wrote the piece in 1945, after the bombing of Dresden and two years after the destruction of the Munich Staatstheater. As the name suggests, the piece is about the internal development of ideas over time.

Scott Yoo, the music director of Metamorphosen, dived into the podium and stretched his arms to all ends of the orchestra, as if grabbing the strings off of the instruments, and churned the melancholic chords in an almost deliberate gesture to leave the audience in awe. This urgency magnified the depression rolling off of the cellos and basses in references to the Marcia funebre of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony. By the end of the 30 minute precession towards utter despair, the orchestra members almost had a painful visage. A thick silence enveloped the Jordan Hall after the final chord, until finally Yoo lifted his head and brought the “deceased” orchestra back to life.

Violinist Mark O’Connor ended the concert with a Boston premiere of his composition, The American Seasons, a concerto for violin and chamber orchestra. The piece is constructed around the idea of the stages of life and personifies these with the seasons. O’Connor tantalized the audience with his simple, yet lively philosophy to playing the fiddle. A former student of Stephane Grappelli, O’Connor is currently on the forefront of a new resurgence of American music and folk tradition. His unorthodox violin technique breaks the barriers of the traditional classical school of playing, and brings a new meaning to the term “virtuoso.”

While O’Connor shined with his casual swing tunes in “Summer,” the orchestra had a hard time keeping the style alive. The clash between dozens of Julliard-trained string players and an Irish fiddler became especially apparent when O’Connor began tapping his foot to the beat with little response by Yoo. The ending cadenza in “Winter” extinguished much of the skepticism in the hall as to whether this new rocker for American classical music had any true musical virtue. Every stroke of the bow gleamed with confident elation in a linear, yet innocent manner. After a standing ovation from the audience, O’Connor finally ended the concert with an encore of Appalachian Waltz. The rendition of this soulful chamber work by both O’Connor and Metamorphosen was a spectacular end to a sensational season.