Queer Urban Orchestra (QUO), now in its eighth season, gave its 11th QUOtets chamber music concert on March 18 at Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea and the varied, satisfying program showed versatile QUO members in a variety of assignments in diverse musical styles. To create an informal atmosphere, tables and chairs were set up cabaret style and musicians’ performing areas were located in a couple of different parts of the church.
Host Brent Reno, assisted by Andrew Berman at the piano, offered a louche welcome with Seth Bedford’s “It’s Curtains for You,” falling somewhere in the realm of Ashman and Menken’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” from “The Little Mermaid;” Weill and Brecht’s “Pirate Jenny,” from “The Threepenny Opera;” and Kander and Ebb’s “Willkommen,” from “Cabaret.” Reno and Berman later gave us Bedford’s bluesy, jazzy “Sing Like a Sparrow.”
Next we heard John Miller and David Carroll’s curious take on Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” narrated by Christian Smythe and played entirely by bassoonists Darcy Leon, David Lohman, Charles Scatamacchia, and Barbara Ann Schmutzler. One of the bassoonists played the soprano recorder to depict the Grandfather, “La Marseillaise” helped introduce the Wolf, and a bit of “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” heralded Peter’s entrance.
QUO Artistic Director Julie Desbordes played the high trumpet line in Claude Bolling’s swinging and appealing “Toot Suite,” with Adrienne Lloyd on bass, Josh Breslauer on drums, and Aryo Wicaksono on piano. Alix Raspé was harp soloist for a charming, lilting “Introduction, Cadenza and Rondo,” evocative of Italian bel canto opera, by early 19th century English composer Elias Parish-Alvars, Harp preludes to the second scene of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Desdemona’s Willow Song, from Gioachino Rossini’s “Otello,” came to mind.
Two works using William Shakespeare’s words, composed in the 21st and 20th centuries, used small orchestras. Ron Nahass did triple duty in his “Bleeding Heart,” settings of speeches from “Romeo and Juliet,” as composer, conductor, and baritone, joined by soprano Alison Mahoney, Jenn Forese on piccolo, Scott Oaks on flute and piccolo, Alan Hyde on oboe, Fran Novak on clarinet, Kyle Walker on horn, Hubert Chen and Stephanie Stallel on violin, Andrew Holland and Nicholas Singletary on viola, Bjorn Berkhout on cello, Lloyd on bass, and Nolan Dresden on piano. Making up “Bleeding Heart” were a gentle “Daybreak” (“What light through yonder window breaks?),” a baritone solo; “Dreaming Awake,” a soprano solo; and “Duet,” for both singers; followed by a dramatic “Dischord” and “Darkness,” for soprano and baritone as well. Dresden was the eloquent baritone soloist for British composer Gerald Finzi’s “Let Us Garland Brings,” issuing a somber invitation in “Come Away, Come Away, Death;” limning fair beloveds in “Who is Silvia?” and “O Mistress Mine;” comforting with “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun;” and concluding with a breezy ‘It was a Lover and His Lass.” Novak led flautists Craig Devereux and Forese; oboist Matthew Hadley; Smythe on English horn; bassoonist Scatamacchia; contrabassoonist Peter Landy; and harpist Raspé.
Playing Ryan Homsey’s contemplative “Stage III: Grace,” from “Recurrent Stages,” were flautist Michelle Stewart, cellist Nicholas Baer, pianist Susan Letcher, and composer Homsey on electronics.
Representing more standard repertory were intense excerpts from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Bassoon, played by clarinetist Travis Fraser, bassoonist Scatamacchia, and pianist Ligia Sakurai, and three romantic songs by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “It Was Early in the Spring,” “The Fearful Moment,” and “Why?,” arranged for euphonium and performed by Joseph Caldrise, with Smythe at the piano. Violist Singletary and pianist Smythe sweetly played Beethoven contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s “Fantaisie,” with ornate variations on tenor aria “Il mio tesoro,” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” among its themes.
Competing the program were 20th century rarities “Shin-én” (Requiem), eerie sounding and meditative, by Japanese composer Ryo Noda, played on alto saxophone by Dr. Aaron Patterson, QUO’s program annotator, and “Les Tréteaux,” meaning the boards of a performance space, by French composer Pierre Max Dubois, consisting of a sprightly dance, a romantic duet between flute and saxophone, and a lusty waltz, played by flautist Forese, saxophonist Patterson, and pianist Smythe.
On May 6 and 7, at Holy Apostles, 296 Ninth Avenue at 28th Street, QUO plays Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, young American composer Mohammed Fairouz’s Second Symphony, and a work by the winner of QUO’s first composition concert. QUO’s Gay-La Pride concert, on June 17, completes the season. Visit www.queerurbanorchestra.org
for tickets and information.