Move over Tchaikovsky, step aside Brahms. Time for Three steals the season opener from the classical crowns. Tf3 does what Hilary Hahn did last season: highlight the skills of fellow Curtis Institute heavyweight and composer Jennifer Higdon.
This time, the blues-jazz-gypsy trio of classically trained fellas takes on Higdon’s Concerto 4-3. The name is a little schticky, but the East Tennessee bluegrass fiddling and bass-slapping ring sincere. As she did for Hilary, Higdon composed this piece especially for the trio, debuting in Philly last year.
Zach De Pue started us off, his violin chugging like a shaking train. The bassist enters with slaps down the strings, the second violin starts racing, bow hairs already breaking…and we’re off.
Of the three, bassist Ranaan Meyer holds the reins. Highly-endorsed are his beatings of the cello’s body with naked fist. The two fiddlers, Zach and Nick Kendall seduce with hipster charms, perhaps hamming up their onstage personas a touch too much. They listen well to each other – the mark of any good improv group – but they amplify the pantomime of listening with foot nudges and shoulder-hunkerings, just as they amplify their strings.
I’d say Higdon left the symphony with little to do. Although, when the players were called upon, what came through strongest was the passion of conductor Marin Alsop. These are the works Alsop digs! It’s all in her shoulders and her tempi. And that is a great sign for a season opener: conviction.
Frankly, I missed a lot of what happened in Higdon’s Violin Concerto: orchestra section stars playing one-on-one with curious pairings against the soloist. In this case, Higdon trivialized the moment by letting too much of Zach v. Nick rock the stage. Whenever the orchestra entered we tended to get majestic arcs of sound that were brief – probably for fear of turning torrid, then insipid.
What matters most perhaps is that the bejeaned guy next to me, clearly on a date, felt happy enough in the hall to kick off his shoes, and enjoyed Tf3’s encore, “Orange Blossom Special,” completely open-mouthed. This encore really cemented the night on the family porch feel, strongly contrasting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 that closed the show. Movement 3 was a highlight: pizzicato strings formed little eruptions like popping corn straight into grade A oboe work. The vigor of the finale had Peabody kids in raptures, but I remain unconverted to Tchaikovsky.