True to its annual tradition, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra presented an all-American line-up of composers for its post-Thanksgiving concert on Friday night. Anchored in a lavish rendition of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” Suite, the program evoked the roots of American sound – including jazz, blues and Shaker melodies, even in its most experimental moments.
The concert started on a sad note, as oboist Cassie Pilgrim triumphed in her solo in Samuel Barber’s Canzonetta for oboe and strings. Barber’s singing music contained within it an air of suspension that found sweetness when it came out. Pilgrim makes his oboe sing in harmony with the orchestra. Indeed, the form of the work, a Canzonetta, is generally the name of a vocal piece. There were no singers, yet the work carried a vocal quality in its emotion and its brilliance.
Barber died before completing this latter work – his pupil Charles Turner completed the orchestration after his death. Regardless of the hands responsible, the arrangement had a wonderful play between the soloist and the other instruments. A particularly striking moment, when a note played by Pilgrim was picked up by the viola, which carried the tune forward. Pilgrim also shone in times when she performed unaccompanied.
Violinist Eunice Kim performed the second solo of the evening – Blue / s Forms for Solo Violin, without accompaniment. Named after black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson has written works for orchestra, choir, instrumental and solo that combine classical forms with jazz and popular music. The piece Kim performed on Friday turned into a jazzy avant-garde.
Kim produced a brilliant sound with her instrument, even as she followed the furious speed of Perkinson’s composition. Filled with slides and rapid progressions, a hint of jazz could be heard in the frenzied notes. You could barely breathe just watching Kim play, but she made it through the intensely complicated rhythms with fierce agility.
After Perkinson’s solo, a wind and brass quintet performed “Red Clay & Mississippi Delta” by Valerie Coleman. Coleman’s piece hinted at the blues and sort of turned the Ordway concert hall into a damp night in a dimly lit bar filled with music and camaraderie. Its call and answer use gave a nod to African-American musical traditions. Particularly attention was drawn to clarinetist Sang Yoon Kim. His rhythmic movement as he performed propelled the piece forward in its easy going jive.
Finally, the orchestra performed Suite from Appalachian Spring by Copland. Commissioned by modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham for her dance work of the same name, Copland’s music alone is a piece to listen to. From its first moments, the melody created a feeling of belonging. Having music evoking images of a bucolic valley touched by morning sunlight wasn’t such a bad thing in the last days of November. The music transported its listeners to a warmer time full of green and growing things.
At the heart of Copland’s composition is a theme from a Shaker hymn titled “Simple Gifts,” which arrives towards the end of the work. Simple air is repeated in variations as it inflates and builds up. The book seems to offer some sort of conclusion to all the sections that have preceded it. Its simplicity and beauty give a satisfying taste of America.
If you are going to
- Who: Saint-Paul Chamber Orchestra
- What: “The Spring of the Copland Appalachians”
- When: 8:27 p.m. Nov., 2:28 p.m. Nov.
- Or: Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
- Tickets: $ 50 to $ 12; thespco.org (waiting list)
- Capsule: The SPCO explores the American tradition with “Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copland as well as works by Samuel Barber, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and Valerie Coleman.