The Queer Urban Orchestra (QUO), under Julie Desbordes’ commanding baton, opened its new season on October 21, at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, with a zesty concert, made up mostly of American music. QUO’s theme for 2016-17 is “Our City, Our Home: QUO Celebrates NYC.” Percussionist Brent Reno served as Master of Ceremonies.
The evening began with the haunting and quintessentially American, familiar and fabulous “Rhapsody in Blue,” of George Gershwin. Maestra Desbordes; guest Aryo Wicaksono, playing the piano part with energy and sensitivity; and the QUO musicians captured the lush, brash bravado of the “Rhapsody,” at once blues, jazz, classical, and Tin Pan Alley, insinuating itself into our hearing and our hearts anew.
The one departure from American and purely orchestral and instrumental music was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s short sacred work “Ave verum corpus,” K618, with guest singers from Stonewall Chorale, St. Cecilia’s, Mannes, and New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, the efforts of vocalists and orchestra making for a refined and seamless, ethereal blend.
The second half of the program was devoted to Charles Ives’ Symphony Number Two and, prior to the performance of it, Desbordes had orchestra and audience members play and/or sing the standard versions of traditional songs that Ives incorporated into the work, and had the musicians introduce Ives’ own variations, which we would soon encounter. The music began by ranging from sweeping, and ever evocative, down to finest gossamer and back, with Ives quoting from the hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves.” The piece turned rhapsodic, with allusions to “Tristan und Isolde” and “America the Beautiful.” During the monumental climactic movements, we heard the “Going to run all night” section of “Camptown Races,” and motifs from “Long, Long Ago,” “Turkey in the Straw”—shades of “Prince of Tides,” and “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean” and “Reveille” wrapping around one another, abutting Ives’ original themes. Bits of Bach and Brahms also put in appearances. QUO’s account of the symphony was overwhelming.
QUO’s season at Holy Apostles, 296 Ninth Avenue, at 28th Street, continues on November 19 at 2 p.m. with a children’s program, including Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Marvin Hamlisch’s “Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin,” narrated by WQXR-FM radio’s Jeff Spurgeon; December 10 at 8 p.m. with QUOtets chamber music; February 18, 2017 at 8 p.m. with guest conductor Nolan Dresden, making his return, and guest trumpeter Joe Burgstaller; March 18 at 8 p.m. with another QUOtets concert; May 6 at 8 p.m. and 7 at 4 p.m., featuring a new work by the winner of the QUO Composition Contest; and June 17 at 8:30 p.m. with QUO’s third annual Pride Gay-La. Visit www.queerurbanorchestra.org
for tickets and further information.