Pitcher gives high marks to Silverman's flawless performance and does a great job of separating expectations for the pioneering minimalist composer's new work from what he has actually delivered:
People who arrived at the Schermerhorn expecting to hear a revved-up rock violin playing bright, pulsating minimalism might have been disappointed. Riley’s 1964 masterpiece In C may have helped launch the minimalist movement. But with his Palmian Chord Ryddle, the 76-year-old composer seems to have settled into a comfortable neo-romanticism.
His new concerto, which received a splendid world-premiere performance Thursday night from Nashville-based electric violinist Tracy Silverman, is many things – sensuous, spontaneous, lyrical, meditative. But the one thing it’s not is repetitive. Indeed, the work’s memorable and modal opening theme – based on the so-called Palmian Chord – was repeated only once during the entire 36-minute duration of the piece.
Most of the time, the concerto’s eight short movements – played without pause – come across as sonic stream of consciousness. Various styles – blues, jazz, raga, fiddle music – follow one another seemingly at random, like the fleeting thoughts in a half-remembered dream. Riley, it seems, was intent on having it both ways – a through-composed piece that functions and sounds like an improvisation.
That's right on, as are the sections where Pitcher zeroes in on the evening's weak points:
Technically, the concerto avoided the worst pitfalls associated with this kind of music. Electric and acoustic music don’t often blend well. But there were few balance problems on Thursday night. And usually, it was the orchestra – not the electric violin – that sometimes played too loudly. That might suggest that the composer still has some pruning to do in his orchestration.
One surprising note: Riley’s scoring for the six-string electric violin struck me as unusually conservative. Silverman’s electric violin is capable of sounding almost exactly like an electric guitar. Yet there was never any raging reverb in Riley’s writing. His concerto evoked Pat Metheny, not Jimi Hendrix. That was perhaps appropriate, given the predominately lyrical nature of the work. But I would have preferred a wider exploration of this instrument’s range and effects.
If you didn't attend last night, the first thing you might want to do this morning is get a ticket for one of the two remaining performances tonight and tomorrow night (and the public run-through of Charles Ives' Universe Symphony May 8). No less than the Preds' pursuit of the Stanley Cup, the NSO's wind-up to its Carnegie Hall date next week is something every Nashville school kid, cab driver, convenience-store worker and hard-hat can and should wear as a badge of honor. In the arts as well as hockey, the hometown team is doing us proud.