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I was fortunate to catch most of two fascinating programs last weekend, the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra on November 5, and Network for New Music on November 6.

The Black Pearl under music director Jeri Lynne Johnson is an organization devoted to increased minority participation in classical music. Success in this goal was evident particularly in the very large, racially mixed, and extremely enthusiastic audience at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral at 38th and Walnut. The advantages of this venue were immediately apparent when the program opened with Sibelius' Valse Triste: a lush, large, and poignant string sound washed over the listeners, even recalling the Ormandy years, though only 23 string players were responsible. So indeed the reverberant acoustics of the grand, almost entirely stone structure contributed much. The work well deserves its status as perennial hit, the magic of its memorable melody clad in melancholic harmonies later offset by the charm of woodwind interludes, beautifully enunciated by flutist David DiGiacobbe and clarinetist Joshua Kovach.

I had particularly wanted to hear my friend and colleague Luigi Mazzocchi perform as violin soloist in the program's next work, Piazzola's "Four Seasons of Buenas Aires," in its realization for string orchestra by Leonid Desyatnikov, who, according to the program notes, inserted quotations from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, though not always in the same season (e.g. Vivaldi's winter in Piazzola's summer, but that's how it is, isn't it- summer in Argentina while winter in Italy!) Mazzocchi had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout, displaying brilliant virtuosity and special effects (that is, non-traditional violin techniques) as well as enticing lyricism. A similarly grandiose 'cello solo near the beginning was played by the charismatic Jesus Morales-Matos. Composer Piazzola seemed a chameleon, sounding sometimes like old movies, often tango-crazed, other times baroque or avant-garde. The general effect is great freedom of expression, uninhibited, with boundless curiosity and also facility. Having a long drive home and a full day to come, I departed before Beethoven's 7th Symphony, which must have sounded even more powerful than usual in that resonant space.

The next night on November 6, I took in "The Poetry of Solo," presented by Network for New Music and hosted by the Classical Connections series of the World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut Street. The concert was held in the restaurant and bar space of the World Cafe, with three rows of chairs just in front of the stage, though most listeners had come for a meal as well as a concert. But, they were really into the music, and faultlessly observed artistic director Linda Reichert's request to keep the silverware quiet during the music's quiet parts (there were many!)

Each of the seven works was performed by a solo musician, and each included a poem or two, generally recited before or after the music, but also sometimes interspersed or accompanied by the music. In some cases the poetry had been written first, and other times the music had come first and inspired the poem. The two performing poets were Lamont Dixon and Jeanne Minahan, who read their own work or poems by others. Composer Joseph Hallman read Jeanne Minahan's text for his solo English horn piece, performed by Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia. Violist Richard Tang performed music by Ingrid Arauco, clarinetist Arne Running performed his own composition, violinist Hirono Oka performed music by Louis Karchin, 'cellist Thomas Kraines performed music he had written, flutist Edward Schultz performed music by his brother Robert which had been inspired by poetry written by their mother, Barbara Burwell, and percussionist Anthony Orlando performed the oldest music on the program, "Portentum" (1981) by Andrew Rudin.

While each work evoked a vivid impression and a particular intimacy, I will just mention a few memories: Ingrid Arauco's exploitation of Tang's gorgeous viola sound encompassed both lyrical passion and adventuresome passagework; Running's "Snippets" also displayed the arresting timbre of his instrument, while attaining great range of expression with economy of means (interspersed by poet Dixon's startlingly colorful language and delivery); and the Schultz brothers created a work which was generous in length, but which remained fascinating, just one flute managing to grip the listener's attention with a flow of drama and arresting sound. As is typical at this venue, the musicians were amplified, but it was is this case a real enhancement, providing not only audibility but also richness, without the distortion which is so frequently a risk when electronics are employed.

Thank you, Black pearl and Network!

-Chuck Holdeman, November 10, 2011

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