On March 2, at Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, Queer Urban Orchestra (QUO), whose season theme is “Queer We Are,” gave a concert, both edifying and entertaining, billed as “Come Together,” comprising a local premiere and rarities by a diversity of composers, with two of the pieces drawing on popular music and two featuring distinguished guest soloists. Most works were guided by QUO’s knowing Artistic Director Julie Desbordes.
The New York premiere of QUO second violinist Seyed Safavynia’s “Discovery” (2011), a zesty overture, commissioned by the Georgia Philharmonic, in connection with the launching of the space shuttle Discovery, opened the program, and its pages suitably suggested the vastness and mystery of outer space and adventure in general. Samuel Barber’s “Second Essay” (1942) was marked by turns by wholesome Americana and dignified stateliness, with a touch of heated exoticism, in short all that one expects of a Barber work.
Xylophone player Paul Robertson, winner of QUO’s concerto competition, was the guest soloist, with Assistant Conductor Ian Shafer on the podium, for Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi’s vivid Concertino for Xylophone & Orchestra (1965), consisting of an Allegro Vivace as lively as indicated, with an extended otherworldly-sounding cadenza for the soloist, Robertson’s own variation on Mayuzumi’s written cadenza; followed by a sentimental Adagietto; moving directly into a bustling Presto, replete with urban strains.
Desbordes was back at the helm when violin virtuosa Lindsay Deutsch returned to QUO as soloist for a splashy “Beatles Fantasy,” created for and dedicated to Deutsch by Maxime Guolet and Eric Jones Cadieux, and made up of the arrangers’ at once classy and accessible takes on a baker’s dozen of familiar melodies by Liverpool’s John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Standing out especially were the yearning of Deutsch and QUO’s “Yesterday;” simple catchiness of “All You Need Is Love;” “A Day in the Life” with Deutsch’s impressive ornate cadenza; and “Hey Jude,” growing in grandeur, for the concerto’s finale. As played by a symphony orchestra, with an esteemed soloist, “Beatles Fantasy” sounded entirely at home in this concert venue.
Completing the concert was William Grant Still’s Symphony Number One (“Afro-American,” 1930), the first symphony by an African-American composer ever played by a major orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic and, later in the ’30s, taken up by the New York Philharmonic and more than 30 other American orchestras. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera, “Troubled Island” (1949), performed by a major company, the New York City Opera. Prior to the present hearing, Desbordes introduced a musician new to QUO, banjo player Richard Gross, who made his debut in the symphony. Composer Still incorporated jazz and blues elements, and the sounds of folk music and spirituals into his robust, distinctive classical opus’ Moderato Assai, Adagio, Animato, and Lento, con risoluzione, movements.
QUO’s next effort at Holy Apostles, 296 Ninth Avenue at 28th Street, will be a “QUOtets” chamber concert, featuring QUO musicians, on March 30 at 8 pm. Visit www.queerurbanorchestra.org
for more information.