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Music review: Curtis Chamber Orchestra

03.15.13
Jennifer Koh
Washington Post

By Stephen Brookes

There was something of a reunion for alumni of the Curtis Institute of Music on Thursday night, when violinist Jennifer Koh (class of 2002) and her former teacher Jaime Laredo (’59) teamed up at the Terrace Theater with the Curtis Chamber Orchestra (under the baton of Curtis fellow Vinay Parameswaran) for a program that included a new work by — does it even need to be said? — a composer on the Curtis faculty.

That made for an intriguing musical “conversation” among generations — and particularly between Koh and Laredo, two distinctive personalities who played against — and with — each other all evening in four mostly-contemporary concertos for two violins. Opening with Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D minor, BWV 1043, the two displayed deep sympathy and deeply contrasting individuality, with Laredo’s lean, almost astringent sound virtually gleaming against the warmer and more sensual tone that Koh drew from her instrument. The interpretations, too, seemed to crackle with that vibrant, yin-yang electricity between equal and deeply connected poles: detachment and passion, masculinity and femininity, age and youth.

That remarkable opening, however, was followed by Philip Glass’s “Echorus.” To some ears, Glass’s music rings with luminous, mesmerizing beauty; to others, it’s toothless, repetitive mush, best suited to slow-moving minds. Even Koh and Laredo couldn’t rouse it to anything resembling life.

David Ludwig, though, seems to have more going on upstairs. The Curtis composer’s four-movement “Seasons Lost” is a sort of global-warming-era take on Vivaldi’s iconic masterpiece, a wistful look at how the seasons are slowly losing their identity. Ludwig has no shortage of interesting ideas — and a fine talent for evoking a sense of memory and mystery — and “Seasons” proved a worthwhile listen.

But the most captivating new work of the evening may have been Anna Clyne’s “Prince of Clouds.” Like Ludwig, Clyne writes in an accessible, fairly conventional musical language but brings to it a natural, almost casual virtuosity of expression. Played ferociously by the entire ensemble, “Prince” had a rich, robust sweep to it that was exhilarating from beginning to end. A glowing performance of Tchaikovsky’s lovely Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48, closed the evening and was played with great elegance and style — as they had all night — by the young musicians of the Curtis Chamber Orchestra.