Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Orchestra 2001 gave a typically eclectic concert on Saturday night in Lang Concert Hall. The program, conducted by James Freeman, consisted of works of Ligeti, Augusta Read Thomas, Andrew Rudin, and Mozart.
The program opened with Gyorgy Ligeti’s uncharacteristically playful “Bagatelles,” a six-movement work for woodwind quintet, dating from 1953. Though filled with Ligeti’s favorite interval, the dissonant minor second, the piece was jolly and showed the Hungarian composer’s under-appreciated sense of humor.
Soprano Christine Brandes sang Augusta Read Thomas’s “In My Sky at Twilight” with a small (but loud) chamber orchestra. Brandes has a medium-sized voice with a lovely rich yet clear tone, and sang Thomas’s jagged and demanding vocal writing with secure intonation and passion. The piece’s text is a collage of excerpts from many different poems. Neither the snippets of poetry nor the music seemed to ever really cohere. The music was frightening and anxious sometimes even when the poetry was gentle; while the music could have seemed an interpretation of the poetry it mostly seemed at odds with it.
After intermission the orchestra expanded in size to perform the world premiere of Andrew Rudin’s “Canto di Ritorno,” a work for violin and orchestra, here performed with soloist Diane Monroe. Rudin’s language is accessible and lyrical, taking the audience on an emotional journey (which the composer explained was inspired both by a friend’s illness and, as the title suggested, by Dante). Monroe tackled the virtuosic violin part with an expressive tone and impressively polished technique. The orchestra responded in the work’s tuttis with equally impassioned playing.
Brandes returned at the end of the program to sing Mozart’s “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” a long aria with an extensive solo piano part (played by Marcantonio Barone). She navigated the aria’s difficultly low tessitura well and gave a dramatic performance, paying close attention to the text and to Barone’s phrasing. The Mozart was a bit disconcerting after all the modernism that had preceded it, but gave the concert a joyful close.