Guest conductor Gemma New leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in virtual concert. (credit: ASO)

Gemma New conducts the ASO in two new concert videos

VIRTUAL CONCERT REVIEW:
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Released February 4, 2022
Two virtual-only concerts:

Gemma New Conducts Sibelius
(Available through August 31, 2022)
Gemma New, conductor
Sarah GIBSON: warp & weft
RACHMANINOFF: Vocalise
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 5
Miloš Karadaglić Plays Ink Dark Moon
(Available through March 4, 2022)
Gemma New, conductor; Miloš Karadaglić, guitar
Joby TALBOT: Ink Dark Moon
Editor’s note: The music presented in these two videos was originally scheduled as a live concert program to be performed on January 20 & 22, 2022. because of ongoing pandemic conditions, the concert was rescheduled as a pair of “virtual only” presentations.

Melinda Bargreen | 7 FEB 2022

As the performing-arts world continues to struggle with the restrictions of the Covid pandemic, organizations have become increasingly adept at adaptation. Few have done as well as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, whose online presentations have pivoted like a ballerina when necessary, providing programming that is consistently innovative and rewarding – even when it’s unexpected.

• Gemma New Conducts Sibelius

The current presentation, Gemma New Conducts Sibelius, evolved partly from another program presented in Atlanta a season ago. That program was truncated because of some technical/recording issues in what was then a fledgling enterprise of presenting concerts online. Sarah Gibson’s new warp & weft was among the works that were cut then, as was all but the first movement of Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony. Also cut from that earlier program was the planned performance of Joby Talbot’s work for guitar and orchestra, Ink Dark Moon which is now available online for the first time (for only 30 days).

Confused yet? You are not alone. But thankfully, things are different now, and music lovers can hear not only the Gibson warp & weft (with works of Sibelius and Rachmaninoff), but also the Talbot Ink Dark Moon for guitar and orchestra, in separate online concerts. These are performances well worth hearing, representing not only adventurous and beautiful repertoire, but also the insightful and powerful conducting of Gemma New.

The New Zealand-based New is an increasingly busy podium presence, in Dallas (where her tenure as principal guest conductor was recently extended) and at other major orchestras of this country, the U.K., and Europe.


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In the current Atlanta program, New demonstrates her versatility in both standard repertoire and her alert and masterly conducting of challenging new pieces.

Opening with a murmuring keyboard motif that runs up and down and unison statements by strings and brass, Gibson’s imaginative warp & weft employs a wide range of unusual sounds and cheeky effects, including rustling percussion sounds created by ripping paper. (Could this possibly represent the destruction of previous drafts, the shredding of ordinary composition protocols, or just a sound the composer liked?). Clever filming captures players in sectional profile from almost every angle; we see fingers on keys and bows attacking the strings so clearly that you’re almost looking for a puff of rosin.

Gibson’s piece employs beautiful textures for piano and winds: repeated figures that layer over each other as if on a weaver’s loom, and a palette of colors that ranges from Impressionist delicacy to the sounding of a final bell. It’s a work that makes you want to hear a second performance.


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After the Gibson score, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalese – short, lyrical, slightly melancholy – made a great “palate cleanser.” New gave it just the right treatment: songful but not overly sentimental, expressive but not excessive; never wallowing, taking just a little bit of time at the top of the phrase. The camera is everywhere: looking at the double-reed players from the side and closely observing the fingers of the French hornist on the keys.

New’s big, swooping gestures brought her baton high overhead; this was not a minimalist performance. As the final note of Vocalese fades away, the video fades to sepia – like an old love letter from the past or the leaf of an ancient scrapbook. What a lovely touch.

One of the great advantages of online concerts is the possibility of hearing from artists during short breaks in the concert, and an interview with the conductor (hosted by the ASO general manager and vice president Sameed Afghani) gave some of New’s insights into the Symphony No. 5 of Jean Sibelius. With World War I looming, Sibelius suffered health issues, fears for his personal safety, and concerns about his career – was he progressive enough? New explained that Sibelius was inspired by seeing swans take flight over a lake, “like another door opening” for the composer.


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The Sibelius performance opened with the camera’s focus on the very expressive face of the conductor preparing for the downbeat. With large, clear gestures, New shifted in turn to the various wind players as they prepared for their solos, drawing in the full sections for the tuttis and always indicating precise attacks with her baton. We see fingers up close on French horn keys; the bassoon in profile; the conductor head-on as only the orchestra normally sees her. There’s the genuine feeling of an onstage community of players working together – everybody breathing and bowing in unison, captured from nearly every possible angle. We see what they see: the conductor urging, beseeching, shushing, demanding; the closeups of the cello bow meeting the string; the faces of brass players superimposed upon longer shots of entire orchestra.

The six declarative chords at the end of the Sibelius are the definitive punctuation: clear, focused, powerful.

Kudos to the production and recording team, particularly to director Hilan Warshaw, and lighting designer David Balliet.

• Miloš Karadaglić Plays Ink Dark Moon

Originally part of the/larger Gemma New program discussed above, this video performance of Ink Dark Moon, a concerto by Joby Talbot for classical guitar and orchestra, is now available on a stand-alone basis for a more limited period of time – only until March 4.

Ink Dark Moon draws brilliantly on the natural strengths of the classical guitar, rather than trying to make the instrument do what it’s patently not designed to do. This is not to suggest that this concerto is easy in any respect (as it clearly is not), but that Talbot knows how to write for the instrument and is not afraid of creating beautiful music rather than merely experimental.

Miloš Karadaglić

Miloš Karadaglić (credit: ASO)

Guitarist Miloš Karadaglić is the soloist for this work, which premiered at the 2018 BBC Proms. This performance is the U.S. premiere. Ink Dark Moon opens on the guitar’s bottom string, an open E, with an E-minor chord sequence that gradually brings in the orchestral instruments. There’s a reflective and lyrical solo cadenza, leading to a speedy repeated treble motif and entrances by the various orchestral instruments (most interesting of which are the harp and percussion).

A contemplative passage with guitar octaves leads into a lively section, and it’s sometimes hard to hear the soloist over the orchestra. Karadaglić is a very expressive player, particularly effective in quiet solo passages of great delicacy, with the ASO’s shimmering strings in the background. One difficulty with a guitar concerto is that there is so little sustained sound, and the volume level is so unequal; in most places, conductor New does a masterly job of balancing the dynamics. The third movement, full of virtuosic solo passages, scampers through key changes and rhythmically challenging passages, all of them brilliantly played by Karadaglić. Here is a terrific addition to the guitar-concerto repertoire – for players who are up to its challenges.


External links:
• The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: aso.org
• Gemma New: gemmanew.com
• Miloš Karadaglić: milosguitar.com

Melinda Bargreen

Melinda Bargreen is a Seattle-based composer and music journalist who has been writing for the Seattle Times and other publications for four decades. Her 2015 book, Classical Seattle is published by University of Washington Press. Her 50 Years of Seattle Opera was published by Marquand Books in 2014.


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