Peabody ensemble hits N.Y. high note

Concert: Conservatory's orchestra offers an evocative, technically skilled performance at Lincoln Center that's worthy of praise.

April 27, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

NEW YORK -The Peabody Symphony Orchestra strutted its stuff on upper Broadway Wednesday evening.

The conservatory students seemed highly energized for their concert at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, perhaps reveling in the opportunity to perform practically in the shadow of the famed Juilliard School of Music.

Although turnout for this self-presented concert was disappointingly small, the audience certainly got an earful of what Peabody is made of these days.

The ensemble, led with considerable intensity by music director Hajime Teri Murai, rose above even the impressive level heard in Baltimore lately.

Such technical details as intonation and articulation were more polished and consistent; the playing overall had a tighter edge. Phrasing was more committed, richer in communicative feeling.

There was hardly a reminder all evening that these were students on stage.

Emotion was the key to the program Murai selected. It came pouring out at the start in the Overture to Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," with its whopping warning blasts of doom, momentary glimpses of ethereal happiness, and, ultimately, the vortex of crushing fate.

Murai's take-no-prisoners approach yielded a taut performance with considerable electricity, and he had the musicians pouring out a big, warm sound.

Verdi's high drama about what is to be made a fitting lead-in to Michael Hersch's equally dramatic reflection on what has been - "Ashes of Memory."

Hersch, a Peabody alum whose compositions have been deservedly attracting a lot of attention, has a remarkable style that harkens back and heads forward simultaneously. "Ashes of Memory" is essentially tonal, temperamentally romantic, yet somehow not really dated.

The arresting score opens with soft beats from the timpani that recall the failing-heart passage in Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration."

At the end of the piece, the basses deliver a slow, deep pulse that reinforces the notion of things slipping away - flames dying, embers turning to ash. The angst-ridden emotions the work conjures up add to the abstract beauty of the writing, from the growling brass to delicate coloring of four solo strings. The music speaks. And the audience was held rapt; a long, meaningful silence followed the last notes before the warm ovation for the performers and, especially, for Hersch.

One of Peabody's star faculty members, guitarist Manuel Barrueco, offered a superbly agile, subtle, sexy performance of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez."

Murai had a reduced complement of the orchestra providing fluent, cohesive support for the soloist. The strings achieved an admirable transparency of tone; the English horn soloist produced some glowing phrases.

Bartok's fierce Suite from "The Miraculous Mandarin" received a crackling account, filled with biting winds, incisive strings and well-aimed percussion.

All the past and present Peabody talent involved in the concert proved to be a potent combination. Next time, New York may well pay a lot more attention.

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