The University of Maryland ended its month-long 2013 National Orchestral Institute on Saturday with a concert by the National Festival Orchestra that was most notable for the incisive and focused playing of its young members.
Saturday’s program, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Dekelboum Concert Hall, paired two seminal works by composers teetering on the brink of stylistic rethinking — Schoenberg’s “Chamber Symphony No. 1” in its rewritten version for full orchestra and John Adams’s “Harmonielehre.” The structural elegance of Schoenberg’s farewell to romanticism is a lot easier to appreciate in its original chamber version, but even with a huge string section overpowering the winds, conductor Alan Pierson and his forces did a good job of highlighting Schoenberg’s architecture.
“Harmonielehre” is also an early work. Born of Adams’s dreams and struggles with a strict adherence to minimalism, it moves between a slowly evolving rhythmic stasis and rich lyrical counterpoint, along the way taxing the concentration of the players to their utmost. That they handled this beautifully, however, is due in large part to Pierson, not the most graceful conductor to watch but nonetheless a model of clarity, who gave them all the help they needed.
As a balm between these two, Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe,” Suite No. 2, got a texturally balanced and nicely paced reading that was highlighted by some absolutely gorgeous flute-playing.
The institute gives aspiring instrumentalists (100 of them this year between the ages of 18 and 27) an opportunity to study and perform important chamber and orchestral repertoire under a number of fine conductors and with the mentoring of a faculty of some of this country’s top orchestral players.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.