NOVA Chamber Music Series, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Sept. 29

Under artistic director Jason Hardink the NOVA Chamber Music Series has been a venue that hasn’t been afraid to explore a broad range of 20th and 21st century music. It’s not quite the kind of repertoire that’s palatable for a typical Salt Lake City audience, but NOVA has a devoted following that embraces Hardink’s vision for the series.

NOVA’s 2013-14 season opener Sunday showed what the series is all about. It brought together Igor Stravinsky, an icon of the 20th century, and Iannis Xenakis,  a composer who is hardly known in Utah, but who is one of the most significant musical figures to emerge out of post-World War II Europe. And as contrast, the program also featured pieces by J.S. Bach

The focus of the concert was Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat (A Soldier’s Tale), a work from 1918 that is an imaginative revisioning of the ancient Faust legend.

This performance of the Stravinsky was a collaboration between NOVA and Plan-B Theatre Company. It was basically a straightforward concert version of the piece with minimal movement and without a dancer. Actors Jay Perry (the soldier) and Jason Tatum (the devil) joined narrator Doug Fabrizio from KUER and members of the Utah Symphony under the direction of guest conductor Steven Schick for this effective and dramatic account.

Steven Schick (Photo: University of California at San Diego)

In Soldat, Stravinsky employs a small ensemble and his writing is lean and sparse and hints at his later embrace of neo-classicism. Playing in the ensemble were Kathryn Eberle, violin; Corbin Johnston, bass; Lee Livengood, clarinet; Lori Wike, bassoon; Jeff Luke, trumpet; Larry Zalkind; trombone; and Keith Carrick, percussion. They played with clean lines and crisp articulation. Eberle, whose part is central to the work, was especially wonderful.

Schick had a solid grasp of the score and his conducting was precise. He elicited tight, cohesive and finely nuanced playing from his group. It was a nicely balanced and executed account that did justice to the work.

In the first half, Eberle and Schick were in the spotlight.

Eberle, the Utah Symphony’s associate concertmaster, played two movements from Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin: the Adagio from the G minor Sonata, BWV 1001, and the Sarabanda from the D minor Partita, BWV 1004. She played both with feeling and great attention to expressions. Her interpretations brought out the different musical threads and captured the subtleties of each piece.

Schick, who is a percussionist as well as a conductor, played two extremely demanding works for solo percussion: Xenakis’ Rebonds, for various drums (1987-89), and Psappha, for a combination of drums, wood and metal instruments (1975).

Both pieces are intense, powerful and filled with raw energy. Schick, who has recorded all of Xenakis’ solo percussion works, captured the aggressive, relentless drive of both with his virtuosity. It was a tour de force performance heightened by his charismatic stage presence and playing.

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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at ed.reichel@gmail.com. Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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