“QUO” Vadis – New Worlds, New Sounds

This originally appeared on qonstagenews.com, reported by Sherri Rase. Highlighting the specific section relating to me. It was an honor to be recognized by Andrew Berman for my efforts.

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Queer Urban Orchestra (QUO), founded in 2009, closed its 2012 season with a brilliant concert–“New Worlds, New Sounds”–on June 21, at the Church of the Holy Apostles, where Ninth Avenue meets 28th Street, and the shimmering heat did not deter the throngs of admirers this young orchestra attracts. This was QUO’s third annual Pride Concert and who doesn’t love a musical travelogue that takes us around New York and around the country?

There was not a dry forehead in the house when Maestro Matthew Oberstein took up the baton for his last concert before he takes up the mantle of Music Director and Conductor of the Philharmonic of Southern Jersey. His energetic leading of the orchestra nearly added a dance performance to the orchestra’s work. QUO began with a very special piece composed by Bjorn Berkhout, one of the violoncellists in their ranks. Berkhout’s world premiere piece, “Overture for a Summer Evening,” has a jazz and blues idiom incorporated within its contemporary classical range and, while it includes some phrases that remind one of nature, the sense is of thrumming urban energy. Berkhout has played with these orchestral forces for two seasons and has “put their musical personalities” into the piece. It made for a delightful beginning to the program.

Next, Ferde Grofé’s “Mississippi Suite,” Opus 60, took us on a musical journey from the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in Minnesota starting with a big open “American” sound that made an energetic nod to Native American music before resuming its broad transit in Father of Waters. The music gamboled playfully through the “Huckleberry Finn” with a Puckish mischief at time reflective of boys at play and then boys with horns upholding their halos. “Old Creole Days” evoked a cool, gentle flow past antebellum mansions that left a pregnant “negative” space at the end that my mind populated further with the scent of jasmine as the melody range in silence in my ears. Finally, the river reaches the wide delta at New Orleans, Louisiana with “Mardi Gras.” The party atmosphere is tangible and the melody includes chimes that seem to be calling the spirit of Comus to join in the dance. Then the river flows smoothly for a while before running forward to a big and beautiful grand finale that had the entire orchestra at its beck and call. Overall a super finish to a very fine first act!

The final piece of the evening was Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony Number Nine in E minor, Opus 95 “From the New World.” Written during and about his travels through the United States, there is a majesty to the work that demands the best of everyone and QUO provided that in abundance. Maestro Oberstein brandished his baton using it to conjure, cajole, seduce and draw every last bit of magic from the orchestra from the minor key opening with almost a Scottish air, perhaps reminiscent of the folk songs that originated there and were filtered through the Appalachians. While the composer considered it American, Leonard Bernstein felt it was multinational in its influence and execution. It is interesting that Dvořák foretold that American music going forward would be based on African-American music as the home-grown talent evolved it, and Rock and Roll came from those roots as well as blues and others styles. Some really can see the future before it’s made.

Sharp observers would note musicians of Cherry Grove, Fire Island’s “Ocean Aires” renown Christopher Minarich and R. Seth Bedford among the performers.

The highlight of the brief intermission came when Jim Babcock, the current President, Treasurer and Librarian, received an award for his volunteer work promoting QUO, as well as designing its posters, booklets and programs (oh, my!), all while keeping so many plates spinning you wonder that it’s one person doing it all! He’s also the Section Leader for the trombone section. Fortunately, he’s remaining with the orchestra, even while he’s handing off some of his duties to new officers. Thank you, Jim, for your hard work!

Want to know more? Check out the website at http://www.queerurbanorchestra.org. QUO resumes rehearsals in September, so get the details and dust off that clarinet, trumpet, violin or oboe. QUO welcomes all musicians from all walks of life. Your chance to audition could lead you to new worlds of your own.

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