Program Note – New Century Chamber Orchestra

By January 14, 2011

New Century Chamber Orchestra

Tonight’s concert by the New Century Chamber Orchestra is the final stop on a February tour – the first concert was at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, and other stops included  cities in the Midwest and Southern California.

Although many people think of this consciously conductor-less ensemble as a relatively “new” group, they actually formed in 1992, and have been recording for more than 15 years. Here are some highlights:

–“Live: Barber Strauss Mahler.” This is the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s most recent disk, on Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg’s NSS Music label. This project started taking shape when Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg listened to the group’s live recording of “Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings” by Richard Strauss, and decided to make it the centerpiece of an album. She decided to flank the Strauss with two exceedingly famous string orchestra standards: The Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (most recently performed at the Mondavi Center last December by the UC Davis Symphony), and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings (last heard at the Mondavi Center in March 2010 in the original string quartet version, performed by the Curtis on Tour chamber ensemble – incidentally, Curtis on Tour is coming back on March 17-20, 2011).

–“Together.” Release in 2009 on the NSS Music label, this wide-ranging disk includes two works on tonight’s program — Astor Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” and Béla Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances” – along with George Gershwin’s “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” and the premiere recording of Clarice Assad’s “Impressions: Suite for Chamber Orchestra (a piece that generated considerable audience enthusiasm at New Century Chamber Orchestra concerts).

–“Oculus: Kurt Rohde.” Mondavi Center audiences are primarily familiar with Rohde through his ongoing association with the Empyrean Ensemble, which performs at the Mondavi Center regularly. Rohde is currently Empyrean’s  co-director (and you can check out  the group when they perform in the Vanderhoef Studio Theater on April 17). “Oculus” dates from 2005, a year before Rohde joined the UC Davis music faculty, and three years before Rohde won the Rome Prize in musical composition, a plum sought by almost every young composer. And oh yes, if you glance at the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s viola section, you’ll notice that Rohde is a regular member of this group.

–“Written with the Heart’s Blood.” This 1997 release features the Chamber Symphony for Strings by Shostakovich (an orchestration of his famously grim String Quartet No. 8, dedicated “to the memory of the victims of fascism and war”). Recorded when Stuart Canin was the New Chamber Symphony Orchestra’s music director, this disk was a Grammy nominee. The disk’s title draws on poet Carl Sandburg’s characterization of the music of Shostakovich as “written with the heart’s blood.”

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenburg also has an extensive discography of her own as a solo artist, with several recent albums on her NSS Music Label (including projects with such noted figures as conductor Marin Alsop and the guitar-playing Assad Brothers), and more than 20 earlier albums on the EMI and Nonesuch labels.

Jeff Hudson

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