From Baroque to contemporary, ALIAS filled Blair’s Turner Hall with a “sonic color” of performances during their October 30 concert, according to ArtsNash’s John Pitcher. According to Pitcher, the highlight of the show was the group’s rendition of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer’s Sonatae unarum fidium, published in 1664.
“In terms of sonic color, imagination and sheer virtuosity, violinist Zeneba Bowers’ performance of Schmelzer’s early Baroque sonata was surely the evening’s climax. Bowers and her companions – theorbo virtuoso Francis Perry and cellist Walker – gave the piece an authentic reading. Bowers and Walker played with gut strings and Baroque bows. Perry and Walker, for their parts, vamped convincingly in their basso ostinato accompaniment. But it was Bowers who stole the show. She played her difficult part with polish, precision and complete spontaneity – at times, I was convinced she was making the music up on the spot. Her final cascade of arpeggios sparkled like fireworks.”
The stunning performance began with R. Murray Schafer’s Wild Bird – a frenzied duo masterfully played by violinist Alison Gooding and harpist Licia Jaskunas. The piece was aptly named for its resemblance to bird song with its violin trills and harp tremolos. Schafer, a contemporary Canadian composer, wrote the piece for a friend who was in the habit of dying his hair a vivid orange. This rebellious theme was reflected in the piece’s energetic pace.
Fast-forward to 1998 for Richard Danielpour’s Portraits for mezzo soprano, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The piece pays homage to four of Maya Angelou’s poems about archetypal women during different historic periods, including: “The Chinese Bride” who struggles to walk in her bound feet, “The War Widow” left behind in the horrors of the American Civil War, and “The Plains Woman” Native American who has lost her husband on a hunt. In the final song, “The Afro-American Woman” asserts her independence, unlike the other women who do not control their own destinies.
In his review of the piece, Pitcher credits ALIAS and mezzo-soprano Lea Maitlen for giving a performance worthy of Danielpour’s amazing work.
“Mezzo-soprano Lea Maitlen sang every song with a silky tone and with unfailing sensitivity to the meaning of the words. Her voice trembled when she sang of the frightened children in ‘The War Widow.’ It shimmered with bright optimism in ‘The Chinese Bride.’ I, for one, was taken with her interpretation of ‘The Afro-American Woman,’ which combined operatic refinement with jazzy swing. The ensemble – clarinetist Lee Levine, violinist Zeneba Bowers, cellist Matt Walker and pianist Melissa Rose – provided her with consistently sensitive and nuanced accompaniment.”
ALIAS closed the program with Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 1, composed in 1941, when Britten was only 28 years old. According to Pitcher, violinists Gooding and Jessica Blackwell, violist Christopher Farrell and cellist Christopher Stenstrom played this challenging piece with heart and emotion.
“ALIAS’ greatest strength is its ability to make any music seem brand new. And since ALIAS often programs unjustly neglected masterpieces, the music actually is new, at least to those of us who are hearing it for the first time.” Click here to read John Pitcher’s full review of the October concert in ArtsNash.
ALIAS donated 100% of the proceeds – no strings attached – to its nonprofit partner, Transit Now Nashville. Transit Now Nashville’s mission is to raise awareness of the benefits of regional mass transit options for the people living in the Nashville area. For more information about this organization, visit transitnownashville.org.