Alexandra Arrieche conducting the CMI Chamber Orchestra in Richard Strauss’ wartime lamentation, ‘Metamorphosen,’ Feb. 22; and (below) at Night of the Proms in Mannheim, Germany, 2017.
Night of the Proms photo: Sven Mandel
February 26, 2020
Richard Strauss’ wartime elegy Metamorphosen (1945), in a performance of overwhelming, almost unbearable emotional weight, capped an uncommonly interesting concert by the Classical Music Institute Chamber Orchestra, Feb. 22 in the Tobin Center’s Alvarez Studio Theater. The conductor was a young Brazilian, Alexandra Arrieche.
Introductions are in order. The Classical Music Institute is an intensive two-week educational program for Bexar County string students, ages 8 to 18. This year it’s scheduled scheduled for June 15-27 at the Edgewood Fine Arts S.T.E.A.M. Academy, but organizers hope to expand to a year-round accredited school. The institute faculty also performs as the CMI Chamber Orchestra and in smaller groupings. The Feb. 22 concert was the first of two faculty outings preceding the June program, when nine concerts are planned. (The next concert, with string quintets by Beethoven and Schubert, is scheduled for April 4 at 7:30, also in the Alvarez Studio Theater.)
The faculty musicians are recruited partly from this region (Texas and New Mexico), and partly from everywhere
else. Six are products of El Sistema,
Venezuela’s acclaimed music education program. (Its most famous alumnus is Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel.)
The programming for the CMI’s concerts indicates serious minds at work. The Feb. 22 concert opened and closed with music of lamentation. British composer Anna Clyne’s Within Her Arms (2008-09), dedicated to her late mother, was an ideal bookend to the closing Metamorphosen (1945), a response to the destruction and inhumanity of the Second World War. Between them came Bulgarian-British composer Dobrinka Tabakova’s Suite in Old Style: “The Court Jester Amareu” (2006) for viola, harpsichord, and strings; and a world premiere, Serenade for Strings: A Ludwig Souvenir, by the Venezuelan Ronald Villabona, who also plays viola in the chamber orchestra.
The Ludwig in the title of Mr. Villabona’s four-movement Serenade is Ludwig van Beethoven, whose 250th birthday (Dec. 16) is observed this year. The main thematic material and its working out are Mr. Villabona’s own, in a style that approximates a simplified version of Beethoven’s. Quotes from several Beethoven symphonies and the Violin Concerto are woven nicely into the fabric. The result is appealing, if far from revolutionary. The middle movements have the strongest profile: The second, “Wien,” is an easy-going waltz that incorporates themes from the Fourth Symphony; a rhythmic pattern recalling the funeral march of the “Eroica” symphony trudges throughout the third movement, “Solitude,” but it is the Seventh that is quoted.
In the title of Ms. Tabakova’s suite, “Amareu” is an anagram of “Rameau,” the 18th-century French composer. Echoes of baroque style pervade the second movement, a saraband, and the fourth, a gigue. The first movement is a brisk dance whose rhythm is beat out on drum and tambourine, in the manner of some Bulgarian folk music, and the finale occupies similar territory. The emotional center of the piece is the third movement, “The Rose Garden by Midnight,” in which the orchestra’s slowly roiling cloudscape of suspensions (momentary dissonances) becomes a halo for miles of sinuous, gorgeous melody spun by the solo viola. The soloist gets more showy material in the other movements, especially in the high-stepping finale. Principal viola Jorge Martinez-Rios (Mexico) served all the music well with his rich, glowing tone and agile technique.
Ms. Clyne’s Within Her Arms expresses profound grief with plangent dissonances, a pace that seems to stop time, sliding notes that are like sinkholes opening beneath one’s feet. This music is not easy to take, or to forget.
Richard Strauss was Germany’s most celebrated composer in the generation following Brahms. Although far from a German nationalist, he revered the Germanic musical and literary culture. And although he was not politically engaged, he evidently abhorred the Nazi regime for its cultural barbarism and for its anti-Semitism – he remained in Germany after 1933 in order (at least in part) to protect his Jewish in-laws. (Among the young conductors he mentored was Max Reiter, a Jewish musician who fled Germany for Italy, and then fled Italy for the United States, where he founded the San Antonio Symphony in 1939.) Strauss watched helplessly as the Nazis corrupted German culture, and as the war they provoked brought destruction to the cities and opera houses he loved. He composed Metamorph0sen as a lament, but some passages are ecstatic – suggesting a memory, perhaps, of a glorious past, and hope for rebirth.
Metamorphosen got a burnished, taut performance, and one that excited deep resonances. At times I found myself on the verge of tears and rapture simultaneously. Clearly, much of the credit has to go to Ms. Arrieche’s close communication with her players and her ideal tempos: Slow enough to breathe, fast enough to quicken the listener’s pulse. A contributing factor was the intimacy of the Alvarez Studio Theater and the three-quarter-round seating arrangement, which made for an immersive experience that’s hard for a larger concert hall to match.
A few weaknesses could be detected in the orchestra, mainly in the first half of the concert, but these detracted little from generally excellent performances. Notable strengths were concertmaster Francisco Fullana (Spain), principal cello Mihai Marica (Romania), and the whole double-bass section – principal George Amorim, a Brazilian who teaches at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; his outrageously talented former student Andres Vela, an Edinburg native now studying at Rice; and Rowan Puig-Davis, a Puerto Rican who is studying at Bard College in New York.
Click here for the
Classical Music Institute’s concert schedule.
CMI Chamber Orchestra, Alexandra Arrieche, Jorge Martinez-Rios
An orchestra you need to know
Kids These Days Dept.
One member of the CMI Chamber Orchestra is double-bass player Andres Vela, a native of Edinburg, Tex. In his senior year at UTRGV, he took first prize in the 2018 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Young Artist Competition in Houston. As a result, he was invited to play Johann Vanhal’s Double-Bass Concerto with the Academic Orchestra of Leipzig, Germany. Click here for audio of that excellent performance.