The outstanding Orpheus Chamber Orchestra was joined by legendary violinist Pinchas Zukerman for one of the best concerts ever to grace Helzberg Hall.
The artistry and musicianship on display during Friday night’s performance by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Pinchas Zukerman in a co-presentation by The Friends of Chamber Music and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts cannot be overstated. This concert was high art, deftly performed, immersive engaging, and thrillingly rewarding. All the more rousing was that this performance of J.C. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, and a world premiere by Harold Meltzer [for the KCM interview with Meltzer, click here] could have been a perfunctory exercise in precision from the pre-Classical to modern with little heart.
Instead, as the first thrilling strains of J.C. Bach’s Sinfonia in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 6, resounded with unbridled clarity, it was clear that Orpheus came to PERFORM. Its tormented Sturm-und-Drang emotions, all-minor movements, and heightened expression are meaty; the orchestra flew through the piece with zeal. With Helzberg’s acoustics and the sparse scoring, it was even possible to distinguish individual string players as they contributed to the conglomerate whole.
Pinchas Zukerman joined Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 216 and Beethoven’s Romance No. 1 in G Major, Op. 40. Under ordinary circumstances and upon first glance, there could be nothing more pedantic than a Mozart concerto and Beethoven fragment: a programming snoozefest. With Zukerman as soloist however, it was more like a double shot of espresso at 10 p.m. From barely audible, delicate pianissimos to hall-filling open-string downbows, the variety of sounds that Zukerman was able to achieve and weave together for a cohesive through-line was evidence of his well-earned reputation. His cadenzas—the first by Sam Franko and two later ones collaboratively with Daniel Barenboim—were magical with perfectly in-tune, double-stop octaves and even more flashy but ultimately musical choices, as was the comparable chorale-like opening of the Beethoven. Only one instance of the briefest flicker of a questionable pitch between the cellos and bass was audible. The resulting double standing ovation was rightfully earned.
The second half of the program was equally compelling. Harold Meltzer’s Vision Machine, in its world premiere, was a stunning work replete with striking sonorities and meticulously crafted timbral combinations, all of which complemented the work’s inspiration, Jean Nouvel’s 100 11th Avenue building in New York. The wind opening found the players trading off exaggerated flared crescendos that built into supremely lush textures by the strings akin to a modern spectral impressionism like the works of Jacob Druckman but more approachable. Though existing outside of a melody/accompaniment model, Meltzer’s work treats timbral combinations as sounds objects, and his exquisite transitions between them are organic, original, and outstanding. All of Meltzer’s craft would be undone by a subpar performance, but Orpheus delivered on every count even if the concertmaster had to conduct some passages with her violin.
Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin was made all the more interesting by the preceding Meltzer. Outwardly, both Ravel and Meltzer treat music as coloristic but their compositional approaches are different. Oboist Roni Gal-Ed’s extremely difficult solos were played not only with precision but with almost folk-music quality as if a panpipe melody were sped up to the extreme. One extra-musical note: The way her colleagues congratulated her as they exited the stage was so rewarding to see in this egoless ensemble. The orchestra, despite its size, produced such a unified robust sound it was as if they were doubled in number. For all the delicacy of the Mozart, this Ravel performance was forceful and thrilling.