Live: The North Carolina Symphony mixes the old with the new | Music
INDY Week's music blog

Archives | RSS

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Live: The North Carolina Symphony mixes the old with the new

Posted by on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 12:59 PM

click to enlarge The North Carolina Symphony, performing three songs from Sarah Kirkland Snider's Unremembered in Chapel Hill.
  • The North Carolina Symphony, performing three songs from Sarah Kirkland Snider's Unremembered in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina Symphony's “Appalachian Spring”
Meymandi Concert Hall, Raleigh
Friday, April 24, 2015

In a preconcert conversation on Friday night, North Carolina Symphony Music Director Grant Llewellyn talked about discovering the term “indie classical” as he prepared music by Judd Greenstein and Sarah Kirkland Snider for the night’s concert. At first, he wasn’t sure what to make of it, thinking it might be lightweight and faddish.

But the music of Greenstein and Snider made him realize they were composers of depth with plenty of interesting things to say. While I find the term “indie classical” troubling for reasons of my own, I do agree with his assessment of Snider and Greenstein: Their music, performed by the North Carolina Symphony as part of a concert featuring American composers, left me wanting more.
The program’s first half featured orchestrations of smaller works. Aaron Copland’s 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring, subject of most of the publicity for the show, was originally scored for 13 players. While the composer’s orchestration from 1945 never quite achieves the clarity of the original, the Symphony’s performance struck a good balance between the clarity of the chamber ensemble and the oomph of the orchestra. The seemingly omnipresent muscle of the brass section countered the transparent winds and strings, most apparent during the laid-back country dance.

A world premiere orchestration of Greenstein’s 2009 piece Change, originally written for the NOW Ensemble, followed. The work builds around intricate, interlocking rhythms, with a twitchy flute melody and agile textures that seem easy for a five-piece ensemble to execute. The challenge, then, is trying to fight the inertia of a 65-piece orchestra, which Greenstein did with aplomb. The first five minutes or so provided a gradual revving of the orchestral engine, warming up different sections with a burbling melody. Once it got going, though, Greenstein built a series of completely irresistible grooves, each more catchy than the last. It was impossible to miss Copland’s sense of harmony and orchestration within the DNA of Greenstein’s music, even if their surfaces could barely be more different. Greenstein will return to Raleigh in May 2016 with a new work co-commissioned by the North Carolina Symphony.

After intermission, singer Shara Worden (who records under the moniker My Brightest Diamond) and a trio of local singers joined the symphony for three songs from Snider’s song cycle Unremembered. A setting of 13 poems by Nathaniel Bellows, Unremembered is a series of disconnected childhood memories told with the same grotesque naïveté of the Brothers Grimm—the author’s sister sleepwalking into the snowy night, the gruesome death of a swan, the time the author saw a witch while sitting at a campfire. Each tale is more unsettling than the last.

Snider’s settings were as wonderfully varied as the tales, with a musical vocabulary rooted in Björk, Steve Reich and David Lang. While I very much enjoyed the neo-medieval polyphony of “The Guest” and Vespertine-like glassiness of “The Swan,” it was the third song, “The Witch,” that stole the show. The song feels like a glimpse into an entirely new sound world, melding the sneaky bass lines and rhythms of a My Brightest Diamond number with the unsettling orchestral interjections of Thomas Adès and some kind of obliquely driving rock. It was the perfect showcase for Worden, who acted the words as much as she sang them, contorting her body to match the ebbs and flows of the music. The song ended far too soon, and I wanted to spend more time exploring its possibilities. All the more reason, I suppose, to look forward to the new work of hers the NCS will premiere in September.

The concert closed with a pair of pieces by Samuel Barber. The Adagio for Strings seemed like an odd follow-up, its earnestness out of place after Snider’s ambiguity. While the symphony did a fine job with it, I felt jarred by its presence. At least his Essay No. 2 offered a nicely meaty way to end the program, packing power into its 10 minutes.

Next year, the North Carolina Symphony will continue to mix new works with careful selections from the canon. Friday’s program offered a sign of things to come. If those performances are as exciting as this one was, we’ll be in for a good symphony season.

Tags: , , , ,

Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Music

Twitter Activity


I was proud to call him Uncle Willy cousin with the same birthday

by Blackfoot on Proud to call him Lumbee: Willie French Lowery, 1944-2012 (Music)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

I was proud to call him Uncle Willy cousin with the same birthday

by Blackfoot on Proud to call him Lumbee: Willie French Lowery, 1944-2012 (Music)

Revive is my people. If folks were offended by this, I can assure you it wasn't intentional. Revive Music was …

by Matthew Allen on Art of Cool Festival, Night One: Revive Big Band's Music-History Concert Leaves Out Women to an Absurd Degree (Music)

Small crowds like the one in Utrecht The Netherlands where I was with my 7 year young daughter may be …

by George Hendriks on The blues of Randall Bramblett's career-long cult status—and the promise of his new Devil Music (Music)

Wow! I am speechless. Skylar that was amazing! You are very talented. I love your vocal range and passion. Thank …

by Rita Romaine Rakestraw on Video Premiere: Phil Cook and Skylar Gudasz Nod to Alice Gerrard in New Tribute Clips (Music)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation