Wayne Shorter and Orpheus give two world premier performances
By Lucas Reilly ‘13
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 01:02
Saxophone legend Wayne Shorter joined forces with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Wednesday night, making the Williams Center stage home to two world premier performances.
Shorter brought his quartet—John Patitucci (bass), Danilo Perez (piano) and Brian Blade (drums)—to play four of his compositions. Originally written as intimate medleys for jazz combo, the pieces were reworked for orchestra.
It was a unique fusion of sound. The orchestra provided lush depth—a full soundscape—that is often missing in a sparse jazz quartet. Meanwhile, Shorter’s quartet planted an edgy pulse that is often absent in a stage full of strings. They blended tremendously.
It helps that Shorter, his quartet and Orpheus have hauled in 12 Grammy awards combined. Shorter, 79, has been nominated for 19 alone.
Still, it took time for Orpheus and Shorter’s group to find a groove. The first tune, Pegasus, lacked balance. The orchestra ate most of the spotlight, and Shorter barely played. Sitting atop a swiveling desk chair, he seemed to play only to keep his horn warm.
A few players looked inattentive. A French Horn in the back spent most of the tune looking at her nails.
If the performers were bored, it didn’t last. The world premier of The Three Maria’s was livelier. Shorter’s playing, however, remained economical. Trading with the piano and orchestra, he played punchy, fragmented solos: two measures here, three measures there.
Shorter never hogged the spotlight. He weaved in and out of the forefront, riding loudly over the orchestra when he needed but often melting into the melody line, doubling with the strings or high winds.
Lotus, another world premier, followed—and it cooked. Shorter’s solos lengthened, evolving into an atmospheric patchwork, practically talking with the instruments around him. The limelight danced from section to section: from soloists, to the quartet, to the orchestra, and to the entire ensemble.
Orpheus was tapping its toes and smiling by the last piece, Prometheus Unbound. For good reason, too. It was their strongest performance of the night, with their fullest sound, too. The nightcap finished with laughs from everyone onstage.
It was a stark change from the first half.
Orpheus opened the concert with Beethoven’s Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus, the composer’s only work for ballet. It glowed. Although warm, Orpheus lacked the driving energy and enthusiasm it had when performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in October.
Still, the piece left the packed house murmuring with pleasure.
The conductorless ensemble closed the first half with Charles Ives’s Pulitzer Prize winning Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting. The piece—conservative compared to Ives’s other work—grew from the seeds of his boyhood: It is saturated with references to hymns from Ives’s childhood.
The first movement was tender, although marred by occasional imprecision. Orpheus looked listless and bored, although they may have been playing to the piece, which was, after all, somber.
The second movement bounced along lightly. It was better, perhaps because Orpheus remembered Ives’s choice words for an irate concertgoer: “Stop being such a damned sissy! Why can’t you stand up before fine, strong music like this and use your ears like a man!”
The third movement was a dark and rich performance, ending with distant chimes singing somewhere offstage, an eerie echo.
Again, the crowd murmured in approval.
Orpheus and Shorter will present the same concert tonight at Carnegie Hall.