Please indulge me in a Stephen Sondheim paraphrase, from “Sunday in the Park with George,” to consider the Queer Urban Orchestra (QUO) concert of December 1, “We Are Queer: What We’re Made Of,” at the German Lutheran Church of St. Paul, a new venue in Chelsea for QUO, in lieu of its regular home at Church of the Holy Apostles. For in this performance, QUO featured the sections of the orchestra separately, in mostly conductor-less pieces of their own choosing, in consultation with Artist Director Julie Desbordes, before putting the orchestra back together for a collaborative grand finale. The format proved a highly effective way of shining the spotlight on four impressive ensembles within QUO, before letting us hear the full orchestra that we know and love.
The brass showed off with a glorious and dramatic fanfare from Paul Dukas’ ballet “La Péri,” about a mythological fairy-like creature, led by Desbordes. Taking their cue from the two first trumpets, instead of a conductor, the players continued with a brilliant and inspirational, polyphonic “Jubilate Deo,” A. Frackenpohl’s arrangement of an eight-part motet, by Baroque composer Giovanni Gabrieli. Forsaking the podium, Desbordes was one of four trumpeters here.
The winds’ showpiece was Verne Reynolds’ arrangement for wind dectet, oboe section leader Matthew Hadley, sporting a gold crown for the season, explained, with saxophones substituting for French horns, of the “Little Symphony for Winds,” by Franz Schubert, whom we claim as a gay ancestor. As Reynolds’ exercise in ‘let’s make a symphony,’ the piece consists of disparate Schubert pieces, collected together into a fairly convincing Romantic, almost Classical four-movement work. The first was a cheerful overture; the second, a nocturne, melancholy and moving; the third, a sprightly scherzo, interspersed with contemplative passages; and the culmination, a romp to sum it all up, akin to an operatic final ensemble.
Four percussionists offered now moodily atmospheric, then lively and imposing opus “Springs,” by contemporary composer Paul Lansky, for conventional melodic instruments, drums providing the rhythm and, explained percussionist Álvaro Rodas, pieces of wood, glass, and flower pots employed percussively.
To conclude this first part of the concert, the strings played Peter Warlock’s six-dance “Capriol Suite,” inspired by Renaissance music, and comprising “Basse-Danse,” a country dance; “Pavane,” courtly and exotic-sounding; “Tordion,” serenade-like; “Bransles,” a brisk country dance; “Pieds-en-l’air,” dreamy and Purcell-like; and “Mattachin,” playful, and reminding that pioneering mid-20th century gay movement organization Mattachine Society took its name from French medieval and Renaissance Société Mattachine, masked entertainers, who could freely speak sometimes unpopular truths. Principal second violinist Jonathan Chang conducted. Before the suite, cellist Todd Porter reminded us that it was World AIDS Day and called for a moment of silence in memory of all those whom we’ve lost.
Our appreciation for QUO’s individual sections thus guaranteed, all players then joined together, under Desbordes’ baton, after intermission, for a bravura account of Serge Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kijé” Symphonic Suite, written as incidental music for a satiric film, and consisting of buffo marches and, evoking ‘Mother Russia,’ allusions to folk songs and dances, liturgical music, wrenching laments, and music of the Tsarist Imperial Court.
QUO returns to Holy Apostles, on Ninth Avenue at 28th Street, on March 2, 2019, for music of Samuel Barber, William Grant Still, and QUO second violinist Seyed Safavnia, QUO concerto competition winner. Violinist Lindsay Deutsch makes a guest appearance. Save March 30 for the orchestra’s QUOtets chamber concert, and May 11 and 12 for works by Felix Mendelssohn, QUO President and cello section leader Bjorn Berkhout, and QUO’s composition contest winner. QUO celebrates Stonewall 50 with its annual Pride Gay-La on June 22. Visit www.queerurbanorchestra.org
for further information.