Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Report from the SHIFT Festival of American orchestras

Three colorful handkerchiefs from the SHIFT Festival

The SHIFT festival, a celebration of American orchestras at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., just completed its second year with four orchestras taking part in the weeklong festivities. I got the opportunity to hear three of the orchestras, because Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) held its annual meeting during the festival period (April 9-15). So I enjoyed three concerts at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall by the Albany Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra (I missed the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, which performed earlier in the week).

The SHIFT festival, co-presented by the Washington Performing Arts and the Joh F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is very similar to the Spring for Music festival, which was held at Carnegie Hall from 2011-2014 in that the participating orchestras must fund their own way to the festivals and the main concert has a flat fee of $25 for all tickets. However, there are a couple of differences. The Spring for Music festival required that each orchestra sell 800 tickets for the concert whereas the SHIFT festival makes no such requirement. Also, the SHIFT festival asks that each orchestra give two or three “residency” performances in the Washington D.C. community. That does not mean that the entire orchestra has to play. It means that ensembles from the orchestra can do so.

On Thursday, April 12th, I heard the Albany Symphony’s new music ensemble, Dogs of Desire, give a residency performance at the Bind Whino SW Arts Center. The 18-member ensemble teamed up with vocalist Theo Bleckmann for an amplified jazz-blues-rock-pop-inflected cycle of songs by Kate Bush, Andrew Norman, Ted Hearne and others. Albany’s music director, David Allen Miller, conducted that sonic exploration as well as the entire orchestra on Wednesday, April 11th, at the Kennedy Center in a program of new works by Joan Tower, Michael Daugherty, Dorothy Chang, and Michael Torke. Pianist Joyce Yang was the featured soloist in Tower’s “Still/Rapids” and Torke’s “Three Manhattan Bridges.” Carol Jantsch, principal tubist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, took the spotlight in Daughtery’s “Reflections on the Mississippi” and three children’s choir collaborated with the instrumentalists to present Chang’s inspiring “The Mighty Erie Canal.”

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra took the stage at the Kennedy Center on Friday (April 13th) under the baton of its music director Krzysztof Urbanski, who chose a program of works from his native Poland. He started with a mesmerizing “Orawa” for string orchestra, based on Polish folk dance by Wojciech Kilar. Then things got deeper with an amazing performance by Alisa Wellerstein in Witold Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto, followed by Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Credo.” The Penderecki piece took up almost all of the real estate with a large orchestra, five soloists, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, and the Indianapolis Children’s Choir. The soloists, soprano Erin Wall, mezzos Renee Tatum and Alyssa Martin, tenor Thomas Cooley, and bass Liudas Mikalauskas, sang with commitment, but Cooley pushed his voice out of bounds on some high notes.

One of the best things about the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert was the number of youth in the audience. It looked like at least a third of those in attendance were in college or high school. Music director Gianandrea Noseda put together a tribute to the great Russian baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who had been originally scheduled for the concert. Each of Noseda’s selections had a strong Russian-Italian connection. First was Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” after Pergolesi with soprano Madison Leonard,tenor Rexford Tester, and bass Andrew Bogard. Next came Balakirev’s “Islamey” in the arrangement by Casella with a very-full-sized orchestra (8 bass violins) that sort of blurred the tones when the full contingent was going a top speed. That was followed by five of Rachmaninov’s “Etudes-Tableaux” in an arrangement by Respighi. The musicians excelled the most with the Rachmaninov, conveying sounds from the soothing seashore, a lively fair, a funeral march, a lively Little Red Riding Hood and a howling wolf, and a high-stepping march to wind things up.

For the reviews of these concert, I gladly refer you to those posted by my colleagues in the Classical Voice of North America.

In the meantime, the SHIFT Festival is going to take a year off and resume in 2019. Hmm... maybe the Oregon Symphony could make an appearance in the near future...

1 comment:

bob priest said...

Thanx for the report!
Ah, Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto is one of his greatest works. Hearing that years ago was what propelled me to contact him & eventually study with him in Warsaw over 30 years ago.