Old and New from Evergreen Chamber Orchestra
A preview by Betsy Schwarm
The operative number is 3: composers, centuries, and nationalities. Let no one suggest that the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra does not offer variety for performers and audiences alike. On the ensemble’s November programs, one finds a rarely heard work by a familiar name, a work so well known that many will be able to hum along (at least with its second movement), and a concert opener written within the past decade here in Colorado.
On the podium will be the ensemble’s music director, William Hill. His trois poésies sans mots (three poems without words – the uncapitalized words are intentional) were a late addition to the program. The original intention was to premiere a newly-commissioned piece by young Colorado composer Jessica Mays. However, an unmissable professional opportunity for Ms. May with the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program made it desirable to delay that commission. In its place, Maestro Hill offered up instead his 2009 reflection upon three French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters.
Hill’s work arose from an educational project with band students at Smiley Middle School. Hill tasked them with submitting original fragments and phrases of music which, together, they shaped into broader musical structures. As some of the elements seemed to suggest Impressionist ideas, they viewed paintings of that style, choosing several that reflected the composition-in-progress. Orchestration and final development were by Hill, but the initial pieces of the puzzle came from the Smiley students, who were at Boettcher Concert Hall to take a bow when one movement of the work premiered at a Colorado Symphony school concert.
The first movement takes listeners to Monet’s gentle gardens, the last to Cezanne’s serene Lac d’Annecy. Both offer the smooth woodwinds and strings suggestive of Debussy, though with occasional harmonic turns reminiscent of Puccini: from either angle, it is the early 20th century recalled from an early 21st century perspective. Those two gentle scenes bracket a rather sassy evening at the café with Van Gogh. Bluesy trombone glissandos and mocking bursts from various instruments, as well as the tempo marking of “Funky,” imply that, for Van Gogh, this was not just a quiet evening with a glass of fine wine.
Center piece for the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra concert is the most beloved of all guitar concerti: Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Composed in 1940 for master guitarist Andres Segovia, the work’s title alludes to the ancient Spanish royal palace. Rodrigo attested that the time-frame he had in mind was the mid-1700s. So Spanish rhythms are melded with Mozartian grace, and the soft-voiced solo instrument need only contend with a Mozartian-scaled orchestra. Soloist Laura Husbands, guitar professor at DU’s Lamont School of Music, will have the pleasure of taking on the nimble Spanish rhythms found in the opening and closing movements, as well as the languid sorrows and flamenco-like twists of the widely familiar second movement Adagio.
Having begun in the early 21st century, then stepping back to the mid-20th century, Evergreen’s program concludes with the early 19th century and very early Franz Schubert, only 16 when he wrote his Symphony no. 1 in 1813. Having grown up in Vienna with parents who strongly encouraged his musical interests, Schubert was still studying his soon-to-be profession, but had learned enough of the details to produce a gracefully nuanced symphony. That the work is more in the style of the recently departed Haydn than the formidably active Beethoven may reflect the fact that throughout his short life, Schubert found Beethoven’s reputation a bit intimidating. He may have judged his own abilities to be better suited to comparison with the earlier master. However, given the excellence of the results, one can hardly fault the young man for his choice of models. It is a delight to discover that, almost a decade before his famously Unfinished Symphony no. 8, Schubert was already coming to grips with the genre.
Maestro William Hill, guitarist Laura Husbands, and the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra will offer two performances of their fall program. The first will be Sunday, November 12, at 3pm, Evergreen Christian Church, 27772 Iris Drive. Those lacking time for the drive to Evergreen may be delighted to hear that, on Tuesday, November 14, the ensemble will come to Metro Denver to perform at Genesis Presbyterian Church, 5707 South Simms near Bowles; that concert will begin at 7pm. In either case, it’s a chance to experience Hill’s approach to programming: balancing music that is appealing, but, in his words, “not necessarily something they know.” Both halves of that equation are well represented in the concerts.