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In the Post: Dancing to the Gran Partita

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Mozart, Serenade in B-flat Major ("Gran Partita"), Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, P. Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi, 1995)
Charles T. Downey, PostClassical Ensemble presents Mozart through a different lens (Washington Post, September 19)
PostClassical Ensemble likes to refract familiar music through a different lens. For its season opener, heard on Saturday evening at Sidney Harman Hall, the piece of music was Mozart’s “Serenade in B-flat Major,” K. 361/370a. Executive director Joseph Horowitz created a three-part, rather fanciful production involving drama and dance.

When Mozart settled in Vienna he cast about looking for any kind of sustainable work. This serenade for eight woodwinds, four horns and double bass was one of several pieces likely intended for virtuoso wind players at the Imperial Court. Its performance, the evening’s main attraction, was less raucous, more polite than the one given on historical instruments by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Library of Congress a decade ago, for example.

Fatma Daglar produced a limpid sound, as if buoyed on a cloud, in the famous opening oboe phrase of the Adagio. The basset horn parts, played on modern versions of the instrument, were shaky at times and sometimes rushed. The bassoons were solid on the bass lines, including Truman Harris, a late, uncredited substitution on first bassoon. Conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez probably got in the way of the musicians more than helped them, and the persistent squeak of his shoes on the stage’s shiny floor distracted the ears.

In the evening’s first part, Philip Hosford played the character of Salieri, extended from Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus.” Three student musicians played two Mozart pieces, not listed in the program, revealing nervousness in breath support and intonation. At the end of the evening, the musicians repeated three movements from the serenade, to accompany the Washington Ballet Studio Company in a beautiful new choreography by Igal Perry. Of all the possible intentions for this music, dance is not one of them, but it was at least encouraging to see this company’s dancers moving to the sounds of live music again.
This was Igal Perry's debut with Washington Ballet. With his Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, he made a choreography for PostClassical Ensemble's performance of Falla's El Amor Brujo in 2011. For that his choreography missed the mark, at least for me, but here he made something quite beautiful. It would be interesting to see what he did with the entire serenade. Twelve dancers in unisex gray shorts and sleeveless tops formed male-female pairs, with the basic number of four pairs sometimes contracted, sometimes enlarged. The famous opening of the Adagio, the first number in the choreography, was realized in movement as the dancers slowly walked around the space to the "squeezebox" chordal patterns that open the piece. The soaring long-note melody was matched by graceful lifts of women with their legs splayed apart.

The triple meter of the second menuet movement began with three dancers, one woman and two men, and elements of French courtly dance seem to have played in Perry's imagination. Another couple was added for the trio, while the largest number of dancers appeared in the bubbling, active choreography that went with the Finale movement.

Charles T. Downey, Boulez Pairs Mozart with Berg (Ionarts, August 27, 2009)

---, OAE @ LOC (Ionarts, December 9, 2006)

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