SPCO review, Dawn Upshaw and 20th century music

This weekend the SPCO had two concerts at the Ordway with Dawn Upshaw as soloist and a program entirely of 20th century music.

  • Stravinsky-Concerto in E-flat for Chamber Orchestra, Dumbarton Oaks
  • Hindemith-Chamber Music No. 1 for 12 Solo Instruments, Op. 24
  • Schoenberg-Four Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs) arranged by Patrick Davin
    Dawn Upshaw, soprano
  • Revueltas-Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca
  • Berio-Folk Songs for Voice and Chamber Ensemble
    Dawn Upshaw, soprano

In the concert going world, there are many people who will run away from some of these modern composers, especially Hindemith and Schoenberg.  In my own personal world of speculation, I suspect that this program may have included all these modern pieces so that concert-goers could avoid one concert, rather than have modern pieces sprinkled throughout a number of concert programs.  However, the reduced size of the orchestra for each piece (especially in strings), giving many members the night off, could have shaped the programming just as easily.

As a reminder, I am not a tough critic.  I couldn’t discern between on musician’s playing of a piece and another, my brain just doesn’t work that way.  So my reviews are really about did I like this music or not.

I liked the Stravinsky, it was really nice.  I was surprised by the Hindemith, I enjoyed it, not all of it, but it would not scare me from seeing it again.  No, I didn’t like the Revueltas, it was pretty strange, and I just didn’t get in to it.  The history behind it was pretty fascinating, and because of that, I am glad that I learned about some history that I had no idea of, here is the program notes on that history,

The bullets that killed him were scarcely fired before the death of Federico Garcia Lorca in 1936 became a potent and enduring symbol of the horror of political oppression.  Even those who might have found Lorca’s unapologetic homosexuality a problem were horrified at the brutal execution of so great and prominent an artist.  It only added to the world’s outrage that his body had been tossed into an unmarked grave.  Expressions of grief were heard worldwide, above all in Spanish-speaking countries.  Many new works of art were created in his memory–this piece was among the very first, written within three months of the poet’s death.

As you may have noticed, I skipped the Schoenberg piece, that is because I wanted to group Dawn Upshaw’s performances together.  The Schoenberg is not what you normally think of Schoenberg, as a Cabaret, this piece was very entertaining and Dawn Upshaw sang wonderfully.

While the Schoenberg was enjoyable, the Folk Songs were great,

  • Black in Color (USA)
  • I wonder as I wander (USA)
  • Loosin yelav (Armenia)
  • Rossignolet du bois (France)
  • A la femminisca (Sicily)
  • La donna ideale (Italy)
  • Ballo (Italy)
  • Motettu de tristura (Sardinia)
  • Malurous qu’o uno fenno (France)
  • Lo fiolaire (Auvergne, France)
  • Azerbaijan love song (Azerbaijan)

I really liked all of the songs, most of them I really liked, with a few, enjoyable enough, but not spectacular.  What was spectacular was Dawn Upshaw’s singing.  Her voice made all of these songs a joy to listen to.  And look at that list, at least 5 languages plus many dialects, I have no idea how she learned them, let alone kept them all straight, but she did.

All in all, it was a night of 20th century music that was well worth listening to.  I will be a little less scared when I hear Hindemith is on the program after this concert.

-Josh

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