Thursday evening’s concert by the National Symphony Orchestra began with the Second Romanian Rhapsody of Enescu. This straightforward work offered neo-folk tunes with ever-changing orchestration. While enjoying the lush string sound of the NSO, one missed any sort of progressive harmony in this young work, written in the composer’s early twenties.
City Scape, by Jennifer Higdon, was next on the program as a replacement for premiere of Higdon's new piano concerto, which was canceled a few months back due to artistic issues between the composer and Lang Lang. While the NSO is still committed to premiering the concerto, one wonders if Lang Lang will indeed be the soloist.
In three movements and commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony in 2002, City Scape, according to Higdon, “is a metropolitan sound picture written in orchestral tones” about Atlanta, her hometown. The opening movement, titled Skyline, begins with bustling activity. The new American value that “being busier is better” is heard in the sense of commotion. This is a fitting sonic description of Atlanta, a relatively new American city that is now facing congestion issues – see Nick Paumgarten's recent article (There and Back Again, April 16) in The New Yorker.
River sings a song to trees is supposed to represent streams, creeks, and rivers giving life to urban parks. This movement offers solos to many of the instruments and has many modulations. Higdon’s work always succeeds in obtaining a wide sound from the orchestra that fills the room with color. Nevertheless, when the music builds and darkens, it became difficult to imagine a river not being compromised by trash, sewage, and industrial waste as it passes through an urban area. Peachtree Street, the final movement, returns to hustle and bustle and contains a short fugue based on a very fast theme. One wonders if there was a reason to program the Enescu and Higdon one after the other - perhaps to contrast traditional and what is now modern folk music.
Robert Battey, From NSO, the Energy of a 'City' (Washington Post, May 18)