Returning to the season’s core repertory—the music of living female composers—the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra gave a captivating performance Saturday evening at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.
Music director Yaniv Dinur programmed boldly: Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi’s cello concerto, “Highlands”; Richard Strauss’s suite from his opera “Der Rosenkavalier”; and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Christine J. Lee joined the orchestra as soloist in Tarrodi’s concerto.
Each of the works delivered. Dinur gave special attention to Tarrodi’s 2009 concerto, inspired by the geography of the Scottish Highlands. As evocative as any great landscape painting—this one with sound—Tarrodi captured the panorama of the Highland’s sprawling hills and coastal beauty.
The concerto has one movement, but six discrete sections where the musical picture shifts.
Using the orchestra to illustrate, Dinur broke down some of the musical concepts before the performance. He talked to the audience about various ideas Tarrodi used in her “sound-painting”—including a spot-on technique for the cellos, imitating the cry of a seagull.
“Highlands” found an insightful interpreter in Lee. The concerto’s challenges are two-fold: in earlier sections, teamwork is demanded—“the soloist is a sort of guide to the piece, and the orchestra follows,” Tarrodi says. But with a long, meditative cadenza, the cellist takes over, and the finale races to an exhilarating conclusion.
Hearing work like this, from a Swedish composer largely unknown to American audiences, brings Dinur’s programming special attention. This concerto deserves repeated performances, and likely points to other, equally intriguing works by the composer.
“Highlands” has bracing opening and closing ideas, interesting ensemble writing, and a challenging but crucial role for the soloist. Its four-note primary theme, cleverly refashioned over and over, provides an anchor for listeners and performers, so “Highlands” has lots of immediate appeal. All these things should interest other orchestras, and it’s great to see the NBSO pointing that out.
Adding Strauss’s suite, and Tchaikovsky’ sweeping Fifth, to Tarrodi’s concerto made for an intense evening.
With an amalgam of waltzes and other musical abbreviations from Strauss’s brilliant opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” the suite hearkens back to the complete stage version. But even those unfamiliar with that—after adjusting to some of the radical shifts in mood—can get swept up in the romantic energy.
Dinur certainly did. Working without the score—a sure sign of repeated performances, and of special interest—Dinur danced his orchestra through the changing evocations. The music is complex but rewarding, as Strauss treats his orchestra and his audience to a whiff of nostalgia—by Richard Strauss’s era, waltzes were already passé—and a glimpse at the passions of the opera.
Impressively, Dinur also conducted without the score for Tchaikovsky’s expansive Fifth. A set of recurring and by now familiar themes get worked and reworked through the long symphony. The highlight: a lyrical horn solo that wends gradually through the orchestra, introducing the slow movement. Waltzes pervade the Fifth as well, in a scherzo movement that pivots on an off-balance dance.
With its gently shifting tonal centers, incessant echoing of memorable tunes, and martial energy, the Fifth pleases a crowd. In the best performance in his still-new tenure with the NBSO, Dinur certainly did a leader’s part.
The next NBSO performance will be Movie Night: The Sequel on Sat., March 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. For information and tickets visit www.nbsymphony.org or call the Z box office at 508-994-2900.