The Bach Festival Society of Winter Park featured an original program on Saturday evening at Knowles Memorial Chapel, interestingly breaking from its tradition of celebrating the legacy of the great European composers of the past.
More than 200 performers onstage made for a notable concert — Modern Masterworks — which remained faithful to the spirit of the Bach Festival while acknowledging music by composers Central Florida does not get to hear often.
Chris Rogerson’s Luminosity was an energetic concert opener, commissioned from the young composer by the Buffalo Philharmonic. Although it follows a conventional three-part structure, it features several rich orchestral passages and smart use of percussion, especially at the beginning. The lead trumpet parts, performed by Chris Dolske, were particularly exciting. Rogerson, who studied at Curtis and Yale, has a natural flair for the craft and a bright future as a composer.
Perhaps the most well-known of the featured composers was Eric Whitacre. His short Lux Aurumque is a gorgeous piece for unaccompanied choir. Whitacre has a talent for making his voices slowly emerge in an almost elusive way. At certain points, the different voices softly overlap in mild dissonance, adding texture in a very subtle way. Soprano Julie Batman took the lead part that soars high above the choir during a few select moments of the score.
Guggenheim fellow Stephen Paulus gives the choral tradition a modern take with Voices of Light, for full choir and orchestra. Harp and strings signal the beginning of this five-movement treatise, in which orchestration and choral skill are treated impressively well. Artistic Director and Conductor John Sinclair did a fine job balancing the large choir and its reciprocation with the orchestra. The call-and-response section in the first movement, between sopranos and tenors, was especially well delivered. Technical intricacies in the score, such as mixed meters and contrasting dynamics, make this a piece worth listening to.
The most modern of all pieces was Paul Moravec’s Northern Lights Electric. A Pulitzer Prize laureate, Moravec treats the orchestra in a forward-looking manner. Several sections of the piece — inspired by streetlights during a night-time walk in New Hampshire — feature original orchestration techniques, not really heard in the other selections of the program. One example was the undulating brass in the first half of the piece, blaring a dissonance that set an eerie atmosphere. Sinclair maintained a smooth flow between some rather disparate (in a good way) moments of the score, holding together the individual instruments that give cohesion to the general form of the piece. Northern Lights Electric is truly original and did justice to the title of the evening’s program.
Lux Aeterna, by Morten Lauridsen, was perhaps the most well-executed of the three choral pieces. The composition’s adherence to orthodox models was perhaps a more natural fit for an ensemble that has masterfully performed Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Verdi’s Requiem. The strongest points of the composition, and the most pleasing of the performance, were the thick-textured passages where the large choir ignites and takes over with its interweaving parts.
A major disappointment of the evening was the unexpected and unexplained omission of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. The hauntingly beautiful canon for strings and bell was advertised as part of the program on the organization’s website and by a few major Orlando periodicals, and even briefly discussed by Sinclair in a short promo video. It would have been a delight to hear the piece, but, oddly enough, it was left out of the program altogether. This is a shame, especially because Sinclair clearly mentions in the video that for this particular program he wanted to pick what he considers the best of the living composers — which is quite a claim to make in its own right — and the one composer of the original six who is most deserving of that recognition, if not the only one (as is also suggested by the Orlando Weekly preview) is Arvo Pärt.
The Bach Festival Society of Winter Park has several other attractive performances coming up soon for this season. To read more about the organization and their upcoming performances, click here.