Thursday, March 19, 2009

Scott Yoo's "Young Americans"

Scott Yoo, Artistic Partner to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducted and played in a fabulous concert tonight at the SPCO Center in the Hamm Building. In the first half, Scott played violin in two pieces, Jeffrey Cotton's Sextet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos, and Dan Coleman's Sonata in Two Acts for Violin and Piano.

The Cotton Sextet (also called the Sextet for Strings) is a wonderful piece of music, beginning with a rather serpentine Dance movement, continuing on with a very moving (and rather Barberesque) Elegy for the victims of 9/11, and ending with a short Scherzo. Cotton was apparently on the scene after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and participated in volunteer rescue work. Scott Yoo and Steven Copes did a fabulous job on the violin parts; Scott actually played in the world premiere of this piece in 2002.

Dan Coleman's Sonata is for violin and piano (played by Susan Grace), and takes its inspiration from opera tableaus and song forms (aria, recitative, cavatina, etc). The violin part is both lyrical and muscular, with excursions into 12-tone music, requiring great dynamics and a wide range of tones. The two acts are separated by an Intermezzo for solo piano that can be played as a stand alone piece. Scott played his challenging part just beautifully; again, he played in the world premier of this piece in 1996.

The second half featured the world premier of Patrick Zimmerli's Chamber Symphony for 14 Instruments, a piece inspired by both jazz and 12-tone music, with Scott Yoo conducting. Steve Copes and Dale Barltrop played violins and Susan Grace returned on piano. There was much to admire about this symphony, including some interesting jazz arrangements, but I found it clever more than anything else. Based on a single hearing, it seemed to lack the emotional appeal of the Cotton work and the energy of the Coleman work. But it's a piece I will want to hear again, once a recording is available, and I'd also like to hear some of his other recordings.

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