Crossroads, a collaboration between the Sarasota Orchestra and New Music New College, was a two-day “happening” starting with a Friday night rock festival setting in a courtyard on the New College campus followed by a more sedate, yet still rockin’ orchestra concert in Holley Hall Saturday.
Friday’s fest featured three rock bands of diverse styles comprised of New College students collaborating with orchestra musicians John Miller, bass, and Jay Hunsberger, tuba. The classical musicians fit seamlessly in to the unusual context and variety of musical styles which culminated in a rocked-out version of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” arranged for rock bands by music professor Steve Miles, who by the way, also played a mean electric guitar.
Saturday provided an entirely different context with Dirk Meyer conducting the orchestra in a program of current modern classics with big names like Joan Tower, John Corigliano and Arvo Pärt - not a serialist among them.
Tower’s “For the Uncommon Woman,” a fanfare of awe-inducing power preceded a brilliant performance of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus: Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, Op. 61. This concerto matches musicians with recorded bird song in a virtuosic display of color and imagery. The final movement so effectively captures the essence of migrating flocks of swans that one could hardly distinguish between musician and bird and had the sense of taking flight along with the horn and strings.
The world premiere of a commissioned work by New College alumnus Silas Durocher was the headliner. Initially a guitarist in rock bands, Durocher was introduced to the possibilities of marrying his original musical sensibilities to more classical language while at New College. He has composed several chamber works that have been performed by Sarasota Orchestra ensembles and now this first full orchestra composition has stretched him even further.
“Hello Good Monday,” a three-movement pastiche of tuneful fun demonstrated Durocher’s still budding talent as he playfully experimented with colors and orchestration. Mixing some dance elements with pop and jazz, he was often inventive and always amusing.
The orchestra, under the exceptional leadership of Meyer, continued to a stunning conclusion with the U.S. premiere of Pärt’s “These Three Words…” and a sizzling Conga for Orchestra by Miquel del Aguila. With layers of rhythm, a sensual bolero and a final urban frenzy like a Miami hurricane, it brought the house to its feet overshadowing what was also an excellent performance of Corigliano’s “Gazebo Dances” which ended with a near equally exhilarating punch. Classical music is dead? Not by a long shot!