Crowd ecstatic over concerto for string trio

March 27, 2011 

It says much about Chris Brubeck's "Travels in Time for Three" that the outburst of clapping and cheers that interrupted the piece midway through Saturday's performance matched in duration and exceeded in decibels the applause heard at the end of the piece that preceded it, Aaron Copland's alternately tepid and aimless "Music for the Theatre."

Brubeck's new work was commissioned by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and seven other orchestras. ASO conductor Randall Craig Fleischer is credited with having played a key role in getting all parties organized.

At least some of those orchestras had already played it before Anchorage's turn came with performances on Saturday and Sunday.

"Travels" is something of a concerto for string trio and orchestra. It featured violinists Nicolas Kendall and Zachary De Pue with bass player Ranaan Meyer, who perform an eclectic mix of music as the trio, Time for Three - hence the title of the concerto. They were joined by guest percussionist Matt Scarano.

In preconcert remarks, Brubeck described the piece as a "gumbo" of styles. The main ingredient in the soup was a pleasant riff, somewhat in the vein of Leonard Bernstein in his more hep moods. It permeates all four movements. Its layered transformation at the end of the first movement was particularly effective, shifting from hep to gypsy to faux baroque in a nicely crafted climax.

The second movement opened with a drone in imitation of union pipes, the Irish version of bagpipes, before racing off with reel and jig turns delivered with high energy. The wrap-up of this movement is what swept up the crowd in Atwood Concert Hall who shouted and whistled their approval, and I can't fault their enthusiasm.

The third movement, a lush arch of aching lines in a Samuel Barber-like ballad, was elegantly compact and well-proportioned. The finale -- inspired by Henry Mancini -- had plenty of room for cadenza activity from the soloists (and orchestra members, including a memorable wail from Karl Pasch's clarinet) in a rhythmic romp that brought to mind the swing of Stephane Grappelli.

The standing ovation at the end went long and loud. I thought perhaps the composer might get an extra bow, but instead the trio came out and performed an encore from one of their albums - an antic take on Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 with references to "Fiddler on the Roof" tossed in.

Robert Russell Bennett's "Porgy and Bess: Symphonic Picture" closed the program. The trumpets, which carry much of the melodic burden throughout this ambitious paraphrase of George Gershwin's familiar tunes, particularly excelled.

I should add that, while "Music for the Theatre" may be tepid, the playing was not. Numerous solos for strings and winds - and strenuous trumpet fanfare at the start - were ably handled.


Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.


ANCHORAGE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA will close its season with Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony at 8 p.m. on April 16 in Atwood Concert Hall. Tickets are available at centertix.net.

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