Queer Urban Orchestra (QUO), under the baton of Artistic Director Julie Desbordes, in her debut season, offered a compelling concert of demanding large-scale works, at Church of the Holy Apostles, in Chelsea, on March 14, focusing on music inspired by William Shakespeare plays and Romantic Era compositions, but also notably introducing a new piece by Bjorn Berkhout and a guest violinist, Lindsay Deutsch, to reckon with.
The evening began with a rousing and fiery performance of the turbulent overture to Gioachino Rossini’s bel canto opera “Otello,” based on Shakespeare’s “Othello,” aptly anticipating and embodying the turmoil and intrigue of the tragedy ahead.
In Desbordes and QUO’s at once grandly expansive and sensitive account of Johannes Brahms’ late-Romantic Violin Concert in D Major, Opus 77, Deutsch made her instrument sing soulfully or joyously, as appropriate, in the heartily tempestuous or rustic-sounding pages and lyrically sentimental or gossamer passages alike. Deutsch’s striking original extended, embellished, and wide-ranging allegro non troppo first movement cadenza, after that of 19th century violinist Joseph Joachim, merits mention.
The new work, commissioned by the orchestra from QUO cellist Berkhout and led by QUO Assistant Conductor and oboist Ian Shafer, was “Juliet’s Farewell,” from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Suitably clangorous, it smoldered as it depicted Juliet’s conflict over whether or not to consume the potion, provided by Friar Lawrence, that would make her appear to be dead and free her from unwanted marriage to Paris. Actor and QUO violinist Navida Stein eloquently delivered Juliet’s spoken lines here.
Desbordes returned to the podium for a powerful, colorful rendition of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s overture-fantasy “Romeo and Juliet,” the concert’s second response by a gay composer to this timeless tale, drawing first on Russian Orthodox liturgical strains to limn Friar Lawrence, then evoking the love and death of the doomed “star-cross’d lovers” and the fatal Montague and Capulet families’ feud, stormy and bloody, overshadowing their love.
The encore, making for a fitting finale, was George Gershwin’s “Summetime,” from “Porgy and Bess,” featuring Deutsch as soloist.
QUO’s remaining concerts, at Holy Apostles, at 296 Ninth Avenue at 28th Street, this season, take place on May 30, featuring music by Brahms, Ives, Nedel, and Vaughan Williams, and June 20, the Pride Gay-La. Visit www.queerurbanorchestra.org
for further information.