Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Post-Classical Ensemble

Aaron Copland wrote his first film score for "The City," a documentary produced by the federal government in 1939 to advocate a new type of planned suburb ringed by a "green belt" of unspoiled nature. Many of the film's idyllic images of such communities came from the city of Greenbelt, which celebrates the 70th anniversary of its founding as a public cooperative this year.

Greenbelt is also convenient to the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, which is where the celebration went on Sunday afternoon, when the Post-Classical Ensemble and its music director, Angel Gil-Ordonez, performed Copland's score and actor John Basinger provided narration to accompany a projection of "The City."

The live performance liberated Copland's score from the film's low-fidelity recording and made the music an equal partner with the film's images and words, presenting dated propaganda but with considerable dramatic power. The Post-Classical Ensemble synced precisely with the film (a challenge Gil-Ordonez likened to "conducting an opera where the singers are robots") and vividly rendered Copland's striking music: a pastoral evocation of a New England village, rich with lambent wind chords; little melodic stabs matching frenetic cuts in a famous lunchroom montage; and a breezy ditty called "Sunday Traffic," mocking the ancestors of our random Beltway backups.

After the nightmarish big city, Copland's music for the utopian green belt town sounded pretty but insubstantial. Sunday's events engaged Greenbelt much more vividly: The ensemble's artistic director, Joseph Horowitz, led a conversation about the film and the urban planning ideas it advanced, and after the performance, a panel discussed whether Greenbelt has achieved the promise of "The City."

Hearing Copland's score in artistic, historical and social context made the concert experience all the richer.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

Richard Goode

Pianist Richard Goode brought his customary clarity of thought and finger work to a meaty program of masterworks Sunday afternoon at Congregation Beth-El as part of the FAES Chamber Music Series. In a set of Debussy preludes, Goode was a master tone painter, summoning up the widest palette imaginable on the instrument. In "Ondine," he limned a shimmering, darting portrait of the water nymph, and in the climax of "La Cath¿drale Engloutie" the walls veritably shook from the force. The first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata was on the fast side but still atmospheric, and Goode hurtled through the finale with splendid panache, perfectly capturing the presto agitato marking.

His opening Bach set was least successful. There was excellent separation of voices, but the dotted rhythms of the G Minor Prelude, BWV 885, were flaccid, and the meter of the E-flat Sinfonia, BWV 791, was left to the listeners' imagination. Elsewhere, some of Goode's playing seemed a bit mechanical (for him). Was any of this because he was using the score?

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