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Zero hour for ISO as Muhly piece premieres

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Nico Muhly, with a difficult haircut.
  • Nico Muhly, with a difficult haircut.

Times are still hard down on the Circle, with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra reporting last week that it had raised only $3.2 million from new donors this year, short of the $5 million from new donors the orchestra has said it has to raise by Feb. 3 in order to enter into a five-year contract with the ISO's musicians.

(Such deadline drama is more or less manufactured, fiscal cliff-style; musicians' union spokesperson Rick Graef emphasized last week to the Associated Press that the deadline was imposed by the ISO itself and could very well be pushed back.)

But bracketing all that hullabaloo, January was, and is, pretty remarkable in terms of programming, from the world premiere of a concert version of Hairspray, to last week's visit by Joshua Radin to Happy Hour.

And this weekend brings one of the biggest stars yet to Indy (or, rather, one of his pieces): Nico Muhly, collaborator with Philip Glass and Bjork; arranger for Bonnie "Prince" Billy, The National and Usher; composer of an opera headed for the Met stage in the 2013-14 season (Two Boys, about a teenage boy who unsuccessfully tried to arrange his own murder via chat rooms).

Muhly's Cello Concerto, making its U.S. debut this weekend at the Circle Theatre with Zuill Bailey as soloist and Jun Markl on the podium, was tepidly received in its British premiere (albeit in reviews deriding those alt-classical whippersnappers).

The Guardian (Manchester) noted that, "Despite its more assertive moments, the shadow of John Adams loomed too large for the piece's intermittent individuality to strike through." But those London reviewers must hear a surfeit of such new work; we'll take what we can get, and kudos to the ISO for setting up this major premiere.

And if Muhly's work proves underwhelming, at least it'll be followed by the tried and true, in the form of Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3, the "Organ Symphony," featuring Martin Ellis on the Circle Theatre's newly restored 1941 Wurlitzer. The night opens with Schelomo, a 1916 "hebraic rhapsody" for cello and orchestra by Ernest Bloch, also featuring Bailey.

The evening marks the third recording collaboration between the ISO and Bailey for the Telarc label. The first, a recording of Dvorak's Cello Concerto, won a Gramophone Editor's Choice Award; the second, released earlier this month and including Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor and selections from Smetana's Ma Vlast, was reservedly praised in a ClassicsToday.com review that noted that "Bailey impressed with his impeccable musicianship as well as his emotional communication" and singled out "Krzysztof Urbanski's clear-eyed and energized conduction," while noting that the combination of Smetana and Elgar makes for a CD "about as sellable as pizza and peanut brittle." The Elgar recording will be available for purchase at the show, and Bailey will sign copies of CDs and programs.

Tickets remain for this weekend's shows - Jan. 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. - and range from $20-75, with discounts available.

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