CMPI Fellow Andrei Nague attended Chicago Sinfonietta’s NEXT Concert, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen this past September. Here are his thoughts on the concert.
The first selection of the Sinfonietta’s program, George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, was originally titled Rumba; however, its name was changed because Gershwin was concerned that listeners would misinterpret the work as just a novelty tune. Since this piece includes elements of Caribbean rhythms, as well as his innate ability to implement jazz and blues into his works, it all culminates into a spectacular display that really makes this piece very easy to dance to.
The violins’ role in its opening using trills captured my attention immediately, as I usually don’t hear pieces open up with this technique at the forefront. Their off-the-string spiccato was fundamental to creating space for signaling to the audience the separation in beats and pulses, which really makes the piece’s dance-like melodies here and throughout the piece have more life. On the other side of the spectrum, the trumpets’ role in the final movement distinguishes itself by overlaying its own melody alongside the strings. The music moves along with the use of their powerful accented notes to help keep the melodies together, but not so together that they can’t be distinguished from each other.
Overall, this was quite a surprising and unexpected way to open the concert; however, it was very fun to listen to, as each movement introduced new melodies and variations that kept me interested throughout. The opening and ending movements also really did feel like a game of passing, since the melody would usually alternate between one of the strings, then onto one of the brass or woodwinds, and then back to the strings again, which always kept me guessing as to who the melodic passage would be given to next. I definitely would be happy to see this piece performed again in another concert.
Later on the program was “Nimrod,” the most well known variation of the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar. Each of these variations originates from one melody, with each variation representing one of Elgar’s friends. This “Nimrod” variation was dedicated to his friend Augustus J. Jaeger, who helped him through his darkest period of doubt and depression, and gave him hope and courage to continue composing. Also, an important note for this concert specifically, it was performed in honor of one of their members [Terrance Gray] who had passed recently that summer, since this was considered to be his favorite piece. In addition to this, throughout the duration of the concert there was an empty chair covered in red cloth sitting within the violin section, which I imagine puzzled a lot of us in the audience, as most of us had no idea up until this moment what, or whom, that chair belonged to.
Right as they finished telling the audience that the chair belonged to their member who had passed, the orchestra began to sing. The violins’ seamless legato and romantic glissandos emphasized the love and tinges of sadness in this melody, which could easily move an audience to tears. Mainly playing and passing the melody along with the cellos, the sections synchronized their extremely wide vibrato and almost made me think they may have actually been singing and not playing. The piece all comes to a climax with the trumpets’ entrance of their triumphant and piercing sound, as the strings announce the melody for the last time, which resonated together in such a beautiful way that’s truly difficult to explain. This was by far the most memorable part of this concert, and to this day, was the only time I’ve ever cried to a classical piece, yet alone at a concert. If there was a piece that embodied the word beautiful, this would certainly be it.
The concert opened with the Cuban Overture, and also included the very impressive and unheard of Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra by Sierra, Voices Shouting Out by Okoye, the heart wrenching “Nimrod” variation, and the finale, the Pines of Rome by Respighi. Out of all the concerts I’ve attended, this has to be the most memorable one to date. I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life.
Photo of Chicago Sinfonietta; Photo of Andrei Nague