On Saturday, May 11th, Aaron Picht conducted the Temple University Music Preparatory Division Youth Chamber Orchestra in the premiere of the new version of my Three Dances. It was the closing concert of the Festival of Young Musicians, held at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, which incidentally has fantastic acoustics for string orchestra.
The evening was a warm farewell to Luis Biava, who’s retiring after 27 years running this orchestra at Temple Prep. Alumna Elizabeth Pitcairn also appeared, to perform “Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
I’ve mentioned before how musical the playing was that Aaron brought out from these players, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and uplifting the performance was. Bravo to him, and to all the players.
I re-orchestrated this for strings alone, after two other versions, partly just to see if I could, after excising winds, brass, foot-stomping, and percussion. It was a fun challenge to fit everything in. However, at the forefront of my thinking was not to create an experiment, but a repertoire piece for the traditional string orchestra ensemble. A piece like, well, the gold standard of string orchestra pieces, the Tchaikovsky Serenade.
So what did they play immediately after Three Dances? Yup. The Tchaikovsky Serenade.
I saw the program and got the yips, and boy did the Tchaik live up to its reputation. It’s overflowing with everything you want in a string piece: richness, tunefulness, energy, glow. I kept thinking while they were playing it, “Oh man, this is how you write for string orchestra.”
But after all was played and done I came away elated. Three Dances held up. It sounded full and brilliant, and I felt that the music leapt from the stage. Aaron kept reaching deeper and deeper into the piece, and the players gave it. Three Dances doesn’t sound like Tchaikovsky (thankfully, since I’d make a poor Tchaikovsky), but it sounded like it belonged up there, with him and Vivaldi and Grandjany (with five harps—gorgeous!) and Paganini and Schubert. What a wonderful experience that was.
Now I get to pore over Aaron’s bowings and learn some more. And on Thursday, to hear the premiere of another string orchestra piece.