Queer Urban Orchestra (QUO), led by Artistic Director Julie Desbordes, celebrated the holiday season, on December 20 at Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, with its answer to ‘Young People’s Concerts,’ such as Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in from 1958 to 1972. A fair number of children were present, for whom players demonstrated their instruments, then giving the children a chance to play them, and engaging narration was offered by violinist and storyteller Navida Stein. The matinee performance was an abbreviated version of the full-length one given on the previous evening.
Continuing QUO’s season’s theme of “Abracadabra! Experience Musical Magic,” this program was billed as “Presto Change-o” and began with music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To introduce a majestic, imposing, and uplifting overture to “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute), Mozart’s final opera, Stein explained the story of the work and talked about some of the music we would hear, including the three opening chords, illustrated for us by the orchestra and symbolizing the three tests—silence, water, and fire—that Tamino—and Pamina—would undergo, and urged the audience to listen for the eponymous flute. Next came an abridged Symphony Number 41 in C major, “Jupiter,” the composer’s last symphony, consisting here of a lively, partial Allegro Vivace first movement; a graceful, but also grand Menuetto: Allegretto third movement, and a propulsive climax to the opus, the Molto Allegro fourth movement. Stein pointed out that the symphony begins with three chords, just as “Zauberflöte” does, and that the last movement is built around a basic four-note motif by Josquin des Prez. Forms of this 16th century plainchant motif reappear in 19th century opera, not only in, not illogically, the scene set in the Church of Saint Sulpice, in Jules Massenet’s “Manon,” but also at the opening of the big ensemble that concludes the third act of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Otello.”
Excerpts from a 20th century rarity followed: Sonata in C-sharp minor for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra by French composer and organist Fernande Decruck, QUO’s first work written by a woman, led by QUO Assistant Conductor and Principal Oboist Ian Shafer, with Dr. Aaron Patterson, winner of QUO’s first concerto contest, as soloist. Performances of the sonata were dedicated to former QUO Artistic Director Nolan Dresden. We heard the third movement Fileuse (spinning song), characterized by soaring, colorfully exotic melodic flights for the saxophone and the others, and the Nocturne from the fourth movement, conjuring a peaceful evening becoming increasingly restless, with a louche, then jubilant saxophone contribution.
The last work was Maurice Ravel’s five movement “Ma mere l’oye” (Mother Goose). “Pavane de la Belle au Bois Dormant” (Sleeping Beauty’s Pavane) was a stately dance of the servants who, with the Good Fairy above, watch over the sleeping princess. In “Petit Poucet” (Little Tom Thumb), Tom, lost in the woods, was portrayed by shimmering violins, after he left, in vain, a trail of breadcrumbs, to guide his way out of the forest, but eaten instead by birds, portrayed by high woodwinds. The instruments then wept for Tom in his plight. “Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes” (Little Ugly Girl, Empress of the Pagodas) was a delicate Oriental dance, which turned brisk and ringing. In “Les Entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête” (Conversations of Beauty and the Beast), the former was gently voiced by the clarinet and the melancholy latter was the province of the contrabassoon. In a high, crystalline moment, the spell was broken by Beauty’s love and, to radiant, joyful strains, the Beast turned back into a handsome prince. The romantic “Le Jardin féerique” (the Fairy Garden) depicted Sleeping Beauty’s garden, where the prince woke her with a kiss and freed her from the spell that kept her asleep for so long.
As players donned Santa’s elf caps, or adorned their instruments with them, they sent us off with a seasonal encore, a rollicking “Sleigh Ride,” by Leroy Anderson.
Hear Queer Urban Orchestra’s Quotets Chamber Concerts on February 6 and May 14, 2016 at 8 p.m.; “Alakazam!,” with James Adler as guest soloist for his Concerto in G for Piano and Orchestra on April 16 at 8 p.m.; and “Spellbound: Pride Gay-La” on June 25 at 8 p.m. For information and tickets—$20 general admission, $15 advance sale, or $10 for students and seniors—visit www.queerurbanorchestra.org
or telephone 646/233-4113. Church of the Holy Apostles is located at 296 Ninth Avenue at 28th Street.