A Towering, Exhilarating World Premiere and a Rare Symphonic Gem at This Fall’s First Queensboro Symphony Orchestra Concert

by delarue

If there was any proof that ordinary New Yorkers, especially those who might not be found at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall that often, are hungry for new orchestral music, Sunday night’s concert on an otherwise ordinary residential block in Flushing was living proof. The Queensboro Symphony Orchestra‘s previous concert, a benefit for Nepal earthquake relief, drew a crowd of at least five hundred people. This particular evening, the orchestra picked up where they left off with a robust, brass-fueled take of Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture. But the two pieces de resistance were both by contemporary composers.

A rarely performed version of James Cohn’s Symphony No. 4 was the first. Conductor Dong-hyun Kim led the ensemble seamlessly through its diverse and erudite blend of idioms, its broodingly nebulous first movement and angst-driven, blustering finale, an evocation of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call this Cohn’s 1812 Overture, although it ends on a somber and distinctly unresolved note. Allusive, wounded, grey-sky cinematics gave way to anxiously tricky metrics and a burst of sudden certainty when all of a sudden the inevitable conclusion presented itself. Cohn is a new discovery for this blog, perhaps better known in Europe than he is here (the Slovak Radio Symphony recently recorded three of his symphonies). His music would enrich a much greater audience.

The concert hit a towering, exhilarating, majestic peak with the world premiere of the symphonic version of Paul Joseph‘s King of the Mask. Originally a piano suite for ballet, the composer takes his inspiration and the work’s title from the series of paintings by visual artist Roman Valdes. Perhaps due to Valdex’ background in puppetmaking, there’s a carnivalesque quality to his work, drawing on 60s psychedelia as much as impressionism, Joseph’s music reflecting the latter a lot more than the former. This magnum opus turned out to be both Joseph’s Pictures at an Exhibition and his Scheherezade, a major work in the neoromantic repertoire that will be performed widely once conductors discover it. It’s a twenty-part series of variations on several cinematic themes. Among them: a heroic overture worthy of Tschaikovsky or Cesar Franck, both crushing and poignant; a balmy, summery pastorale; bitterly moody, Ravel-esque rainscapes; monster-on-the-prowl menace; neblous cloudscapes that grew stormy and ominous; and a lushly swirling climactic theme that will probably get plenty of movie soundtrack action in the years to come. Joseph’s orchestration filled the hall from the murkiest registers of the basses to the very top end of the violins and winds. Joseph accompanied the orchestra on electric keyboard, essentially performing the role of a glockenspiel.

And the spectacle didn’t stop with the music; surprises from dancers and a cameo for singers lept from the far corners of the hall when least expected, to max out the mystery. Joseph, who is the orchestra’s composer in residence, implored the crowd to be still until the suite was over – this ensemble being a rapidly emerging borough institution, this audience knows Joseph’s work and likes it. They finally rewarded the performance with an explosive series of standing ovations. This enterprising and exciting new orchestra’s next performance is on October 25 at 7 PM with a program TBA at at Mary’s Nativity Church, 46-02 Parsons Blvd. (at Holly Ave.) in Flushing. Take the 7 train to Main St. (the last stop) and transfer to the Q27 bus or take a leisurely ten-minute walk to the church through a quiet residential neighborhood. Suggestion donation is $20.

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