A Premiere And Soloistic Strings

Posted: February 22, 2000

An urgent, tensile beauty underlines Jan Krzywicki's Concertino for oboe, trumpet, harp and strings. The piece, premiered in two concerts this past weekend by Orchestra 2001 and conductor James Freeman, makes its case through rising and ebbing frictions - frictions between oboe and trumpet, soloists and orchestra.

The piece has an unusual genesis. Its composition was suggested by trumpeter Barbara Prugh and commissioned by singer Anni Baker. Baker, who died last year, had been an active supporter of composers and contemporary music, and her death in May occurred as Krzywicki was writing the second movement of the work. The event was reflected in the music, according to the composer, making the ending of the second movement "funereal."

But unless you know the circumstances behind the music, the movement comes across as just simply expressive. Oboe and trumpet dovetail melodies, sometimes finishing each others' thoughts, sometimes speaking in opposition. The third movement threads a modern trumpet take on the tarantella (played by Prugh) through other material, often finding oboist Dorothy Freeman playing too softly to be heard. Still, Krzywicki, a Temple University professor, has created a work that deserves to become an enduring reminder of one of the city's most memorable and active behind-the-scenes forces for contemporary music.

David Anderson solved the problem of his soloist being heard by keeping the double bass in the upper register for much of his Concerto for Double Bass, Strings and Harp (1997). The range required Harold Robinson, principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, to crouch at a 45-degree angle to reach some of the notes. Reach them he did, with impressive dexterity, while enhancing Anderson's dreamy urgency with a bass sound that seemed to pour with the sweetness of blackstrap molasses.

Elizabeth Hainen DePeters, who was orchestra-corps harpist in the Anderson, was soloist in Debussy's Danse sacree and Danse profane for harp and strings. Principal harpist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, DePeters brought attention to dynamics and great vitality to Debussy's 1904 work. One of the nice things about the Trinity Center for Urban Life, where this program was played Sunday night (after a Saturday performance at Swarthmore College), is proximity to the artists. The Debussy was a good chance to hear DePeters' playing up close, rather than in its usual context somewhere in the shadows of a Mahler orchestra.

Orchestra 2001 (what will they do about that name after next year, by the way?) is an important player on the local scene not only for premieres such as the Krzywicki, but for playing works of composers rarely heard. English composer Nicholas Maw is certainly not suffering from local overexposure, and his Sonata notturna for cello and string orchestra (1986) was a worthy representative. It has a somewhat Quiet City opening, featuring a recurring repeated note as a theme. One of its most breathtaking moves comes from the solo cello, played here by Lori Barnet: a series of beautiful harmonics that makes you look twice to see what instrument is capable of such resonant diaphanousness.

Orchestra 2001 Performed Sunday night at the Trinity Center for Urban Life. No additional performances.

Next concert: Pianist Vladimir Feltsman joins Orchestra 2001 in Alfred Schnittke's Piano Concerto at 3 p.m. March 4 at Swarthmore College's Lang Concert Hall. The benefit concert also includes Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, and a showing of the film Orchestra 2001 in Russia. Tickets are $100. Information: 215-922-2190.

Peter Dobrin's e-mail address is pdobrin@phillynews.com

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