Orchestra taps Hispanic, Caribbean and local roots for a unique concert

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A report by Dean M. Shapiro for The Advocate.

The works of five U.S. and Latin American composers, including two from New Orleans, are on the program Friday at the Marigny Opera House for a concert themed “Across the Americas.”

The New Orleans Chamber Orchestra presentation “celebrates the diverse cultures that influence our city (featuring) our unique blend of new local works, audience favorites and rare gems,” said conductor Maxim Samarov.

The concert will include Cuban composer Leo Brouwer’s “Concerto Elegiaco (Elegy Concerto) for Guitar and Orchestra,” New Orleans composers Jerry Sieg’s “Fantasy on ‘Wondrous Love’ for Horn and Orchestra” and Barbara Jazwinski’s “Sequenze Concertanti,” Samuel Barber’s “Adagio” and Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Aria” (from “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5”).

The featured soloist on the Brouwer piece will be Spanish-style guitarist Javier Olondo, of Kenner. Mollie Pate, principal horn player for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, will solo on the Sieg composition.

Samarov, a music professor at Tulane University, said the instrumentation for this performance will consist primarily of strings with only two percussion pieces in the Brouwer concerto and Pate’s French horn solo in the Sieg piece.

Explaining the evening’s theme “Across the Americas,” Samarov noted, “I’ve said many times that New Orleans is as much a Caribbean city as an American city. So it makes sense here. And we have two composers on the program who are local.”

The Brouwer concerto was composed in 1986. “Brouwer is a very important Cuban composer, and Javier is Cuban also,” Samarov said. “This is our way of reaching out to the Hispanic/Cuban community of New Orleans.”

This will be the Louisiana premiere of the Brouwer concerto, Olondo said. “It’s a very difficult piece for the guitar, but it’s also a lovely piece,” Olondo said. “It’s always a challenge when you try to get the guitar to blend into the orchestra,” he explained, adding that he will be experimenting with amplification techniques “that don’t distort the natural sound” of his acoustic instrument.

“To bring the work of this prominent Cuban composer to the New Orleans classical music scene is very important to me,” Olondo said.

Sieg, a retired UNO music professor of whose composition will receive its world premiere, explained that it is a variation of a popular American spiritual hymn, “Wondrous Love,” with roots dating back to the early 1800s. As a vocal work, it has been performed and recorded many times by soloists and groups.

Sieg’s arrangement will not have a vocalist, but much of the familiar melody will be recognizable, he explained.

“The piece doesn’t really develop the melody in the classical sense, but it does present the melody in different types of settings,” Sieg said. “Anytime I use familiar music pieces, that’s essentially what I do. I don’t think I could ever improve on them, so I don’t try to. The horn here carries most of the weight of the melody, and the strings are there for coloring and accompaniment.”

Jazwinski’s “Sequenze Concertanti,” commissioned and premiered by Louisiana Sinfonietta in 1992, is scored for string orchestra with a prominent part for the solo first violin.

According to the program notes, “The work consists of several sections of contrasting dynamics, tempo, rhythm and character. Virtuoso sections are intertwined with sections that resemble a dreamy fantasy. Two sections are dancelike and feature beats of unequal length and constantly changing time signatures. Others are free-flowing and lyrical.”

The nine-minute “Adagio,” one of Barber’s best-known and most frequently performed compositions, has been used in numerous movie soundtracks and is played entirely by strings.

Villa-Lobos, widely regarded as one of South America’s greatest composers, is noted for combining Brazilian folk music with stylistic elements from European classical and baroque composers — especially Bach — as exemplified by his “Bachianas Brasileiras” (Brazilian Bachian-pieces), nine separate pieces from which the “Aria” is derived. However, there will be no vocals in the NOCO offering.


Across the Americas

The New Orleans Chamber Orchestra

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St., New Orleans

TICKETS: $15-25

INFO: brownpapertickets.com/event/2940092 or nolachamberorch.com

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