The return of the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra to the jubilant Southern Theater

Twenty months. Six hundred and eighteen days. How long was it ProMusica Chamber Orchestra set foot on the Southern Theater stage.

But this drought is over. With the season kicking off on Sunday night, the orchestra is back in full force and its energy level is higher than ever.

The concert drew a lot of people as we are still living with a pandemic. Some sections were almost full; others had occupied scattered seats. The vaccination review and testing was informal and went well. Seasonal flyers were available, but the program books were digital only, with QR codes displayed around the building.

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Artistic director David Danzmayr chose three movements from Bach’s “Suite for Bass Strings” to open the season. Despite the title, it’s not just for bass strings, it’s for a string orchestra. Lower voices play a bigger role than usual, however, often carrying the melody.

Clarice Assad’s arrangement brings together melodies such as “Sheep May Safely Graze” and “Ave Maria” with subtle but surprising dissonances in the violins. At first the orchestra seemed hesitant, the dissonances seeming to be mistakes. As they continued, their hesitation turned into confidence, unleashing Assad’s inventive musical vocabulary.

As part of ProMusica’s Composer / Performer project, reflecting a commitment to promoting the careers of living composer-performers, the centerpiece of the first half of the program was Xavier foleythe double concerto of “For justice and peace”.

Inspired by the 400th anniversary of the start of African slavery in the United States, and focusing on the slaves seeking justice in the courtroom, one might expect to hear anger, concern, or outrage. But no: Foley’s musical voice is thoughtful and wise, not angry. The discomfort is hidden under soaring harmonies and conversation scraps of traditional melodies, punctuated by a hammer blow.

Music:The ProMusica Chamber Orchestra opens the season with works highlighting slavery

As the work progresses, the string orchestra also becomes a choir, singing appeals for fairness and depicting the slaves’ dependence on group singing for comfort.

Foley’s articulation is next level elegance. Each note and phrase is carefully crafted, each weighted by a gently changing emotion. Violinist Eunice Kim also lived the work well, with an intuition that almost corresponded to that of the composer.

Moving on to Bootsini’s “Double Bass Concerto No. 2”, Foley demonstrated equal technical and artistic prowess in an older repertoire, especially in the long and virtuoso cadenza of the first movement. The second movement “Andante” was both respectful and sensual, dripping with all the charm usually reserved for the cello. The third movement therefore pitted fiery violins against even more delicate challenges in a lively ending.

As a reminder, Foley and Kim gifted Foley’s “four minute remix” of the Irish folk song “The Clergyman’s Lamentation”. Together, the two musicians become much more than a duo. They developed the fullness of an entire ensemble, bold but dynamic, grunt but light.

If we could say that ProMusica had a specialty, it would probably be the works of Beethoven. His “Symphony No. 7” was an enthusiastic frenzy, creating and releasing tension, a playful sun revealed behind heavy clouds.

The beloved “Allegretto” was more deliberate than mysterious, with the radiant and major sections emerging only to crumble into the theme and dismal variations. The “Scherzo” then took off breathlessly, lively and spinning, with a beautiful tone of the winds. And then, to top it off, the “Finale” was even more breathless – enough for the ropes to dominate the winds – running relentlessly towards its triumphant conclusion. Time seemed to fly, as did the tempo.

And, with that, the world started to feel a little more normal, a little less “twenty months of a dark stage” and a lot more joyful.

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