Monday, February 10, 2014

Elgin Symphony Orchestra's "Tour of Italy" Concert Features World Premieres

In an age of eight-beat riffs and six-second viral videos, it's a risk to present new music for the concert hall, demanding great faith in musicians, composers and audiences. The ESO courageously performed two new works this weekend by composer and trumpet virtuoso Brandon Ridenour, with guest conductor Tania Miller.

Ridenour's amazing technique sparkled in his transcription of Vivaldi's operatic aria "Agitata da due venti," (1735) originally a difficult soprano vocal whose ornate leaps and flights could not have been played by the trumpets of the past. But the solo translates beautifully into brass, and its strings-only accompaniment creates an authentic setting in which to hear this baroque gem in a brilliant new way.

Brandon Ridenour performs with the Elgin
Symphony Orchestra, conducted by
Tania Miller
The attention-grabbing start of Ridenour's new work Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Paganini heralds the trumpet of the future, exploring new accents if not new language that frees it to speak beyond its usual ceremonial fanfares. Ridenour inhabits every tone and temper of his horn with exquisite control and focus, and his orchestral writing is high quality. They say good music is "music you want to hear again." Though a bit didactic at times, this "Fantasy" demands further listening.

Canadian Maestra Tania Miller's conducting was scholarly at first and warmed with the audience's appreciation, which was rewarded with an encore trumpet performance of "Carnival of Venice."

The most Italianate piece of the evening was its delightful opener, Rossini's overture to L'Italiana in Algeri (1813), but it only hinted at a larger repertoire by Verdi and Puccini who were missed on this program.  

Taking their place was Aus Italien, (1887) a lengthy symphonic fantasy by a young Richard Strauss recalling his visit to Italy. Shades of his future greatness were clearly evident in the imaginative score, but at times you felt as if a dear friend was telling you about his vacation in too much detail. Nonetheless, the orchestra showed precision and great flourishes of individual talent in this wind-friendly piece.

No tour of Italy would be complete without a little commotion. Friday's fire evacuation and Saturday's audio miscue only served to highlight the professionalism of the ESO staff and artists. The true test of the audience's depth is when they continue to flock to concerts for programs of widely varying period, style and genre, including that most daring of all categories: new music.