Yesterday afternoon, Orchestra 2001 performed in Lang Concert Hall with internationally renowned soprano Dawn Upshaw. The Orchestra, founded by Professor James Freeman in 1988, is dedicated to the performance of new music. This weekend’s concert opened with works by Alec Wilder (d. 1980), whose compositions laid the foundations of the American popular song. Wilder’s music is inspired both by the European art-music tradition and the American traditions of jazz and dance music, heavily featuring swing percussion. Freeman expressed a nostalgic connection to the pieces being performed, Wilder’s “Airs for Winds and Strings,” having grown up with recordings conducted by Frank Sinatra. The Orchestra’s ensemble featured internationally recognized soloists Christina Jennings on flute, Richard Woodhams on oboe, Dorothy Freeman on English horn, and Daniel Matsukawa on Bassoon.
The second half of the concert was devoted to voice and piano duets in the German Lieder tradition. Soprano Upshaw and pianist Gilbert Kalish performed songs from Gustav Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (1805), Claude Debussy’s “Chansons de Bilitis” (1897), and William Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs.” Kalish’s expressive playing melded well with Upshaw’s confident, dramatic interpretations of the works performed. Her interpretative talents were most obvious in Bolcom’s vernacular songs, which featured sardonically dark and quirky reflections on modern life. One song, “Toothbrush Time,” was a regretful, morning-time reflection on the previous evening’s amorous encounter, as the awakened lover turned stranger in the daylight roams the house, intruding on speaker’s privacy. Bolcom’s setting of Arnold Weinstein’s poem was in the intimate style of the quiet, jazz-cafe ballad. Bolcom’s songs concluded the concerts planned repertory, but the audience responded so enthusiastically to the duo’s sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious interpretations that Upshaw and Kalish performed Schubert’s song “Im FrÃƒÂ¼hling” (In Spring) as an encore.