Compelling and Controlled, HRO Succeeds
The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, under the direction of Federico Cortese, Senior Lecturer in Music, opened its concert season last Friday at Sanders Theater. The orchestra, now in its 203rd year, presented a diverse and demanding set of works, challenging its musicians to scale the loftiest of musical heights. They did so with apparent ease, especially in a riveting “New World Symphony.”
HRO began with Giuseppe Verdi’s overture to “I vespri siciliani.” Although this 1855 opera never achieved the same renown as Verdi’s other dramatic works, its dynamic overture remains popular in concert halls. HRO successfully conveyed the work’s central conflict between love and war. Ominous, textured chords punctuated by percussion foretold tragedy. Soon subtlety faded, and the orchestra embarked on a whirlwind journey through delicate pizzicato waltzes and percussive, militant rumbles. Exuberant brass evoked the spirit of battle, while cellos implied pure romance. HRO thus constructed a dizzying orchestral seesaw with expert dynamic control.
HRO next performed “Ritual Images,” by Dr. James Yannatos, conductor emeritus. Billed as a pastiche of classically American tunes—from Gershwin to the military ceremonial “Taps”—and passages from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor,” the work seeks to portray America’s cultural rituals through its musical traditions. Ultimately, these “images” came off as little more than a confused goody-bag of musical quotations, moving perpetually nearer to nowhere.
HRO ended their evening with Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World,’” trekking every inch of the composer’s imagined frontier in a rampant display of collective virtuosity. Cortese took an unexpectedly brisk tempo in the opening movement, creating a strong sense of urgency and danger. This approach worked wonderfully for the movement’s robust first theme. For the second, contrasting theme, however, this tempo felt unnecessarily hasty. The symphony’s famed “Amen” movement was perhaps the highlight of the entire concert. Led by brilliant English horn soloist Miriam R. Farkas ’14, the orchestra conveyed a sumptuous, patiently resolved rendition. A fierce Scherzo and lightning-speed Allegro—especially in its ecstatic “Hiawatha” romp—closed the symphony with exhausted triumph.