The Chroma Chamber Orchestra performed its second in a three concert series marking its inauguration as the orchestra-in-residence of the Music Institute of Chicago on April 1. The concert hall of the Music Institute of Chicago, located in Evanston, is a warm, classically designed space that contrasted with the experimental (for their time) works the Orchestra performed. Each of the pieces in the concert, titled New Dawn, was centered on the theme of renewal; of morning, spring, or musical and artistic rebirth.
The first piece played was Aubade, composed by French composer Francis Poulenc in 1929. Taking its title from the poetic genre of morning songs, the work was originally orchestrated as a ballet, and describes the anguish of the goddess Diana, torn between her own longings and her eternal chastity. The pianist, Chicago native Marta Aznavoorian, fiercely played with virtuosity and dramatic expression, coloring the narrative and movement of the piece. Her playing propelled the piece, creating an intensely visual experience.
The next piece was American composer Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. This too, while in keeping with the overall theme of rebirth, was played with shimmering skill, and contained a strong narrative undertone (reflecting again an origin in ballet). The piece, a fundamental part of the American repertoire, relates the story of a young couple’s experiences in the rural region of Pennsylvania. Though both Poulenc’s Aubade, with its experimental tones, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, pioneering a new American sound, were novel and exploratory works, their visual, thematic elements link them to a tradition in which, as Oscar Wilde noted, “music is a representative art.” The Orchestra performed this piece with precision and grace, particularly the delicate quivering sounds of flutists Alyce Johnson and Jennifer Clippert, and the supporting strength of Michael Hovnanian’s bass.
Following a lecture by Art Historian Mark Pohlad on the modernistic inspiration of 1920’s Paris, the Chroma Chamber Orchestra performed their third and final piece, Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde, a blending of early twentieth century influences, from jazz to impressionism. Inspired by the jazz he heard in Harlem, by his Black Swan jazz records, and by Latin music he heard in Brazil, Milhaud set out to create a modernistic score, again for a ballet (this one, when staged, featured ponderous cubist costumes by Fernand Leger), which would incorporate these influences and take an African-inspired creation story for its theme. The orchestra performed this with great artistry, transferring from shifting impressionistic passages to swinging syncopated jazz rhythms seamlessly. Particularly noticeable were the buzzing flute technique used, the jazz clarinet solo by Steven Cohen and the jaunty movements and well timed inhalations of conductor and artistic director David Crane.
The third and final in Chroma’s inaugural concert season, L’Histoire du Soldat, will take place on Sunday, June 3, at the Music Institute of Chicago.