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Venice Baroque Orchestra with Robert McDuffie

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P. Glass, Violin Concerto No. 2 ("American Four Seasons"), R. McDuffie, London Philharmonic Orchestra, M. Alsop

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Vivaldi, Four Seasons, G. Carmignola, Venice Baroque Orchestra, A. Marcon
American violinist Robert McDuffie’s “The Seasons Project” with the Venice Baroque Orchestra arrived Sunday evening at Strathmore for their twenty-fourth North American performance in the past month. “The Seasons Project” pairs Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Phillip Glass’s Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra (“American Four Seasons”), following intermission. Since he commissioned the work from Glass, McDuffie conveyed a sincere ownership of it in performance that helped convince the audience of its merit. McDuffie considers Glass "America's Vivaldi" (a comparison Charles made in these pages a few years ago) and has made the The American Four Seasons the focus of his touring since its world premiere in December 2009.

Each movement opens with a solo violin prelude, the first of which had the orchestra enter the texture by magically merging with McDuffie’s trill. The audience is tasked with guessing the label of each movement: the first movement was reminiscent of fallen leaves, the second an icy landscape, the third a sprouting thaw, and the fourth movement rather long. Glass’s redundant use of repetition, imitation, and arpeggiation reminded one of over-the-top Vivaldi, excessive when in the third movement the basso continuo began mercilessly sawing up and down on the same octave with assistance from the electronic keyboard. Moments of brilliant color and texture emerged through the work’s four movements, enhanced by the Venice Baroque Orchestra’s incredible dynamic spectrum.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Philip Glass reflects Vivaldi in 'American Four Seasons' at Strathmore (Washington Post, November 16)

Mike Paarlberg, Philip Glass’ The American Four Seasons at Strathmore, Reviewed (Washington City Paper, November 15)

Allan Kozinn, Through the Seasons With Glass and Vivaldi (New York Times, November 14)

Chris Starrs, Georgia-born violinist brings concerto to Athens (Athens Banner-Herald, November 14)
Comprising only seventeen members, the facile Venice Baroque Orchestra always had technique to burn and a chamber-like demeanor (with all musicians standing except cellists, lutenist, and harpsichordist). In Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, one could imagine frolicking love birds, summer thunderstorms, and a swirling winter wind. The lutenist (with a lower octave attached to the top of his instrument) sat front and center and was seemingly the group co-pilot, making lots of eye contact with his colleagues and at times humorously imitating the soloist. In brisk movements, McDuffie established balanced tempos that could bounce without being bouncy and also allowed room for personalization, while he indulged in eloquent ornamentation in slower movements. Hearing all four concertos in sequence allowed one to notice upward scale motifs in the warmer movements and descending ones in “Winter.” Strathmore’s acoustic was especially wet due to a weak – yet enthusiastic – audience filling only about a quarter of the hall’s two-thousand seat capacity. Perhaps the low turnout was due to Strathmore’s lack of a dedicated subscriber base for their eclectic series, which earlier in the week included an all-Reich concert by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (reviewed by the Washington Post).

This Friday (November 19, 8 pm), the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra makes its way to Strathmore, for a concert that includes music by Mozart, Schnittke, and Shostakovich.

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