Now in its third year, the Central Florida-based New Score Chamber Orchestra specializes in contemporary music and transcriptions of renowned composers of the past into a modern form. This weekend the 18-odd-piece ensemble introduced a fresh and intrepid new voice to Orlando audiences: Man-Ching ‘Donald’ Yu, hailing from Hong Kong.
Sunday’s performance – the program was presented first on Saturday at Maitland Presbyterian Church – benefited from the modern atmosphere of The Abbey in downtown Orlando; most importantly, it displayed the talent of soloists and ensemble alike, with a captivating world premiere as the centerpiece.
Man-Ching ‘Donald’ Yu’s intelligent use of harmony results in enigmatic elusion, disquieting tension, and a thoroughly engaging sense of atmosphere. An exclusive premiere for the New Score Chamber Orchestra, Ballades for Four Seasons infuses with original orchestral color and applies forward-thinking harmony to the poetry of Li Bai, a Chinese poet of the mid-Tang Dynasty.
The orchestration juxtaposes the threatening rasps of brass instruments in the low register – expertly accentuated by percussion – against woodwinds in fiendishly high areas. The disquieting grunting of the cello and bass are soon answered by flute and clarinet in the opening of ‘Spring.’ Stetson University’s Lynn Musco was especially noteworthy, making her clarinet yelp in a fascinatingly distressing high register.
Taiwanese soprano Shelley Jauh-Shiang Chen was the featured soloist. The Texas State University graduate possesses a powerful tone, capable of intermingling with the ensemble in the menacing quieter moments, and of projecting a full-throated outpouring in climactic moments.
Conductor Todd Craven held the ensemble together with precision, allowing each instrument and its family to resonate loudly in the most unnerving moments of Yu’s deliciously dissonant score, while minding orchestral interplay and the role of the soloist throughout the four movements.
Where Yu, 35, especially succeeds with his captivating Ballades for Four Seasons is in the economy of means, the unpredictable use of harmony, and the tight structural mold; compact, yet expressive, and self-assured, though not pretentious, the piece teeters on skittish chromaticism while delivering a straight impact. The earnestness of its exploratory spirit never makes concessions or resorts to typical orchestral maneuvers for its adaptation of Bai’s familiar subject: the four seasons.
The other star of the evening was young violinist David Brill, performing his father Patrick Brill’s Concerto in D, and the Duet No. 2 for Two Violins. David is fresh off the stage of the 2015 Philadelphia International Music Festival, where he won the grand prize concerto competition, performing the Tchaikovsky concerto. A member of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra since 2012, David has the chops of a true soloist; his projection comes off with confidence and his phrasing with clarity. Especially impressive was his broken-chord rapid fingering in the Duet (his mother Fang Brill, also from the Orlando Philharmonic, joined him). David is slated to perform the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Ocean City Pops Orchestra in New Jersey next year.
Patrick’s neoclassical music is an obvious nod to the great tradition of the past – the Concerto specifically to the Baroque period – and is honest in its simple and direct treatment of the material. Although it is a great vehicle for expression of composer and performers alike, the material borrows a bit too heavily from the great music and style that inspires it.
• To keep up with the New Score Chamber Orchestra, follow them on Facebook here.
• To learn more about Man-Ching ‘Donald’ Yu, visit his website here.
• To listen to music by Yu, visit his YouTube channel here.