The Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Daniel Hege presented its Blue Jeans concert with guest artists Time for Three on Friday night. This was the third time the string trio has performed with the WSO, and their mixture of high-velocity classical technique and diverse, crowd-pleasing repertoire brought audience members to their feet by the end of the evening.
Made up of violinists Nick Kendall and Nikki Chooi (the latter filling in ably for original member Zach De Pue) and double bassist Ranaan Meyer, Time for Three played a diverse range of music with the energy of a rock show and the comic timing of three gifted performers in sync with each other and at ease working a crowd.
The major work of the evening was “Concerto 4-3” by Jennifer Higdon, composed for the trio. It incorporates improvisation and extended techniques (slapping the bass like a drum, plucking chords on the violin like a guitar or banjo), giving the soloists the same freedom to embellish or reinvent ideas that jazz or folk music allows.
Themes of Americana run through the piece, from the train rhythms of first movement “The Shallows” to the elegiac melodies of the second movement, “Little River,” reminiscent of Aaron Copland, with folk-like tunes building to a throbbing orchestral climax. The final movement, “Roaring Smokies,” allowed the trio to cut loose with a blazing bluegrass breakdown, matched in intensity by the orchestra’s soaring finish.
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Their finale, an arrangement of Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man,” was even more volcanic, taking advantage of amplification to match the dynamic of the full orchestra in an old-school fiddle contest. The trio’s skills at playing lyrically were well demonstrated, however, by a sensitive arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
In addition to the pieces they played with the orchestra, they performed an increasingly elaborate set of variations on Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, interrupted by such digressions as Kendall and Chooi playing “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Hava Nagila” on the same violin at the same time, each using one string. Such virtuosic hijinks are the equivalent of a high-wire act: easy for the audience to grasp and admire, but much more difficult than the performers make it appear.
The three works performed by the orchestra alone continued the theme of exciting, rhythmic music: Manuel De Falla’s Ritual Dance from “El Amor Brujo” and Igor Stravinsky’s suite from his ballet “The Firebird” brought touches of exoticism to the program and showed off soloists Andrea Banke (oboe) and Nicholas Smith (horn), among others. Danzon No. 2 by Arturo Marquez, a repeat from earlier in the season, built up a nice head of steam with its insistent Latin syncopations. All three pieces were marked by fast tempos, as if the adrenaline of the rest of the concert had affected Maestro Hege and the musicians, or as if they simply couldn’t wait to get to the next piece. It made for an energetic evening, but it also made the moments that took their time all the more special.
Guy Vollen is a conductor, horn player and award-winning composer and holds a doctoral degree in musical composition. He blogs about music at Medleyana.com.
If You Go
Time for Three
What: Presented by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $25-$67, 316-267-7658 or visit www.wichitasymphony.org