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Metamorphosen in Star Form

Classical Meets Pop with Corelli, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Cotton

By Amanda Wang

Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra

Scott Yoo, conductor and soloist

Jordan Hall

Jan. 25, 8 p.m.

As I walked to Jordan Hall to hear the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra perform their second concert of the season, I brought along my usual mixed bag of feelings toward this group. Being one of the premier chamber ensembles of the day, Metamorphosen comprises rising young musicians whose attractive glamour shots -- accompanied by impressive credentials -- fill the glossy sheets of their Vogue-like brochure.

Young, diverse, talented, and even well rounded -- several of the group’s members majored in science, in fact -- the group’s members are, as individuals, godlike. Gathered together with their CD-perfect finish, they are a group one could love to hate.

Metamorphosen, a supporter of new music and change, generally commissions and performs one world-premiere piece at each of its concerts. The musicians sported bald heads and dresses that might have appeared on one of MTV’s more formal occasions. Watching them and being part of an audience with an unusually large percentage of people under 50 years of age almost made me feel hip to be listening to Corelli. And as the liberal-minded young professionals of today’s classical music world, Metamorphosen members democratically rotate their positions after each piece to show that no one is better than anyone else. Call me old-fashioned if I find that a little over-compensating.

In Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D, Op. 6, No. 4, the contrasting soloists and orchestra compete for the spotlight amid seamlessly passed transitions and flawless ensemble work. For better or worse, the winner, hands down, would have been conductor and soloist Scott Yoo, whose dominating virtuosic energy permeates the music and the musicians. Yoo’s role extends beyond founder and conductor of Metamorphosen. One could feel his presence bearing over the entire musical output of this performance in a way that was overshadowed by only a few memorable moments throughout the concert.

At times, especially during Schubert’s Du Bist die Ruh, arranged for clarinet, one could feel a bit distracted by Yoo’s frenetic wand technique, enhanced by his towering position atop a two foot dais. Clarinetist Todd Palmer, even with the heavy orchestration, played with full absorption, sincerity and a refreshing independence which captured my attention and admiration.

Jeffrey Cotton, Metamorphosen’s composer-in-residence, explained his usage of the “star form,” a musical game he has invented to geometrically connect different musical episodes together. As interesting as it might have seemed in front of the blackboard while he traced out five- and seven-point stars, in the end, his Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, and Harp lacked cohesion and intuitive direction.

While his episodes moved in well defined patterns around a “star,” this particular ear couldn’t make too much sense of where it was going. The experience was still pleasant, however, and despite being one of the composer’s darker pieces, it did not particularly step out of anyone’s comfort zone. The orchestral Greek chorus to Palmer’s solos was played with gusto and good understanding. The clarinet’s excruciating last two notes in the second movement composed one of the best moments of the entire evening.

Looking at the players’ faces, I saw expressions of intense abstraction and at the same time professional detachment. Their rendition of Mendelssohn’ Sinfonia No. 9 was wonderful and brilliant, but somehow not as magical as it could be, like the missing hiss on a sterilized record-turned-CD. Their execution has the perfection of a video game master, so why did it lack that youthful irreverance, that soulful je ne sais quoi? My two cents: these talented kids should put away their instruments and go play outside.