East Meets West Via Orchestra 2001

Posted: November 14, 2000

Works by three Western composers that were strongly influenced by Eastern musical sources, and music by a Chinese composer who works in Western musical forms constituted the program of a weekend concert by Orchestra 2001.

James Freeman led music by east-facing Westerners Henri Delage, Lou Harrison and Gerald Levinson Saturday at Trinity Center for Urban Life. The program closed with Chinese composer Bright Sheng, a west-facing Easterner, leading his own songs.

What these composers heard is intriguing. Harrison's Concerto in Slendro evoked the Indonesian gamelan with its softly chiming and clucking percussion surrounding the solo violin. Violinist Igor Szwec caught the language of the Eastern sources in music that sounded jauntily like an island hoedown.

Sheng's Two Poems of the Sung Dynasty explains the East with Western instruments and with a notable lack of romanticism. The pun of the title seems to come clear after hearing the power of these poems as bold and vibrant songs. Soprano Sheryl Woods sang the Chinese text with notable expressive depth, cloaking the syllables in such subtly varied sounds that her voice was at once that of all humanity and one of the orchestral instruments.

The composer roused intensity from the instrumentalists to complement the soloist's long-lined evocation of longing and loss. Percussion augmented the singer's expressive levels. In the second song, the soprano built the intensity of the text steadily with the percussion toward a thunderous climax and an instrumental ending suggesting five potent thunderclaps. It used Western scales and instruments, but Sheng's music spoke from deep within Chinese culture.

Woods opened the program with Delage's Quatre poemes hindous. Written in 1912, the music evokes the East of silks and spices, and the small orchestra imitated Indian instrumental sounds. The atmospheres were rich, and Woods moved her sumptuous voice through the intervals with such security that her singing implied theatrical scenes and mysteries.

Swarthmore composer Levinson has incorporated gamelan traditions into his music since spending time in Bali. His For the Morning of the World is a strongly colored tour of the sonority and mood of some Balinese musical expression. His wide range of enthralling percussion sounds - gongs and chiming and metallic shimmers - complete the picture.

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