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In performance: Inscape Chamber Orchestra

Web-only review:

Neoclassical music, imaginative but underrehearsed
by Cecelia Porter

Music labeled "neoclassical" covers a lot of territory. Broadly taken, it refers to compositions that convey modern ideas of structure and sound coupled with techniques from a bygone era. Held at Bethesda's Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Sunday's concert by its resident Inscape Chamber Orchestra centered on neoclassical music from the early 20th century to the present -- a long stretch. Harpsichordist Joseph Gascho set the scene with fanciful solo excerpts by the baroque composer François Couperin. Playing expressively, Gascho often lingered freely on outbursts of melodic embellishments -- as if improvising in a Baroque manner.
(read more after the jump)

The orchestra, conducted by Richard Scerbo, had its finest moments with Stravinsky's vigorous Concerto in E-flat, "Dumbarton Oaks," commissioned in 1937 by Washington arts patrons Robert Woods Bliss and his wife, Mildred, who lived on Georgetown's Dumbarton Oaks estate. (The house, with its landscaped gardens, is now a museum belonging to Harvard University.) Stravinsky envisioned his wry piece as a reincarnation of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos: All 15 players are treated as soloists interweaving in elaborate, constantly morphing textures and themes that twist and turn in every direction.

Founded in 2004, this orchestra of young players has developed much individual skill, but not enough yet as a coherent group -- ensemble was often shaky and intonation problematic. Sunday's concert simply demanded more rehearsal time, as evident in Manuel de Falla's Harpsichord Concerto, Stravinsky's Septet, Thomas Adès's reinvention of a Couperin piece, and John K. Leupold II's "An Actuated Agglomerate," an imaginative exploration (a premiere) of instrumental timbres and ranges impelled by repetitive melodic figures.

-- Cecelia Porter

By Anne Midgette  |  March 9, 2010; 6:11 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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For whom does Cecilia Porter write her music criticisms?

In the decades after World War II a new style of music criticism emerged in major U.S. newspapers. This kind of critic identified more with the music establishment than with general music lovers, to whom prewar critics tended to address their writings.

One feature of the new style was displaying erudition and dropping names and bits of music knowledge as though it would be familiar to their cognoscenti audience. Another pattern was treating all music, historic-familiar or contemporary, as though it belonged to the same genre and could be treated the same way. Ms Porter evidently learned her craft in this school, because she shows little interest in the level of knowledge that music lovers in a major-circulation paper like the Post might have.

It was noted the ensemble was not adequately rehearsed for De Falla's Harpsichord concerto. But for many readers who didn't attend the concert but might know of de Falla's strongly Spanish folk-flavored music like "Ritual Fire Dance", it might be useful to note that the Harpsichord Concerto reflects a more complex and intellectual approach to music. Perhaps the composer did not want to be seen as a conservative as the winds of change swept other composers like Stravinsky and Bartok into experimental modes.

Ms Porter described Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks Concerto briefly, but brushed by the other composers, Thomas Ade and John K. Leupold, with a few words. That may be a coded way of recognizing that compositions like Leupold's "An Actuated Agglomerate" will be known by or of interest mainly to peer composers, composition students and to an elite circle of aficionados - probably less than 1% of the Post's usual readers of classical music reviews.

The trouble is that that we have too many codes and shying away from realities. We could use a greater sharing of knowledge and honest views as music lovers instead of treating music as though it were akin to Egyptology or lessons in Hungarian.

Posted by: Telemann1 | March 11, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

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