The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra begins the new year with the perfect cold-weather concert, Friday in Overture Center's Capitol Theater. "Concerto for String Orchestra" by Grazyna Bacewicz jumpstarts 2010 with fiery energy. Then Joaquín Rodrigo's "Concierto Andaluz" transports us to sunny Spain, and "Variaciones Concertantes," Alberto Ginastera's masterpiece in 12 movements, explores Argentina from its great wide plains to the urban glitter of Buenos Aires.
"The music spans 20 years of repertoire," says Andrew Sewell, the WCO's music director and conductor. "Our audience will hear unique music unavailable in other venues in Madison."
Bacewicz is the least known of the evening's composers. She was born in Poland in 1909 and studied composition with famed pedagogue Nadia Boulanger in the 1930s. She was a gifted violinist, and her 1948 "Concerto for String Orchestra" will set the WCO string section ablaze. The outer movements of the concerto waste no time getting to the point as edgy contours and penetrating rhythms drive the music to brilliant climaxes. The slow middle movement is meditative and woven through with lovely, but sparse, melodies. It maintains edginess with descending chords that give the sensation of falling in slow motion. The piece is tightly structured in neo-classical style, but thorny, muscular and not for the fainthearted.
The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, known for its passion and wide-ranging repertoire, will join the WCO for "Concierto Andaluz," Rodrigo's 1967 tribute to the landscape and music of Andalusia. Although Rodrigo lost his sight at age three due to diphtheria, his music is picturesque. The opening "Tiempo de Bolero" invokes an image of couples dancing the graceful steps of the bolero in triple time, while the rhapsodic second movement frees us of time constraints with hypnotic, descending scales. The rondo-like allegretto is a whirling, twirling dance that will give the guitarists' nimble fingers a workout. But no matter how fast the orchestral colors fly by, the music has a strong sense of place and grounds us firmly in Spanish soil.
Ginastera's 1953 "Variaciones Concertantes," Op. 23 is one of the loveliest pieces in the repertoire. The theme begins with an intimate conversation between harp and cello and continues through 11 short interludes and variations. Ginastera favors open, unadorned intervals that give the music a fresh, organic presence, although some variations have an urban aura, with blaring horns and pounding drums at speeds that can make us giddy. But best of all, the WCO players will take center stage when each instrument becomes a soloist in this fabulous creation.
The three composers were nationalists steeped in the traditions of their countries, so folk music will mingle with 20th-century dissonance and Stravinsky-like rhythms to create sonic dazzle. But the quiet movements, when the music gives us time to reflect, are sublime.