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NMSO concert review: Shattenkirk, ``American Icons,'' Feb. 19, 2000

The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of February 20, 2000. No mention was made of five soloists taken from the NMSO Chorus for the Tatonka movement of American Icons: sopranos Kay Storr and Marilyn Bernard, mezzo Pat Miscall, tenor Lynn Loomis and bass Alf Houkum. I thought they all did a terrific job, especially with the difficult unaccompanied opening section.


``Icons'' is an evocation of loss

by Joanne Sheehy Hoover

For many reasons the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra will miss the artistic direction of its conductor David Lockington when he leaves at the end of the season. Not the least of these is his capacity for redefining the concert experience. Friday night's program in Popejoy Hall once again demonstrated his gifts in that area.

This time it was the premiere of American Icons by his friend from Yale days, Ray Shattenkirk. The work was the first half of a larger composition lamenting all the extinct or endangered American wildlife. Frankly, it sounded as if it were going to be another bit of advocacy, full of high intention and little art. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In American Icons the quixotic Shattenkirk has created a lyrical and moving evocation of loss. Like the poet John Donne with his ``no man is an island, entire of itself,'' he hymns the death of the least, from butterflies to passenger pigeons.

Shattenkirk's passion was conveyed through a fine musical sensibility and sure craftsmanship.

Freely using the familiar sounds of the classical vocabulary, he skillfully deployed the resources of the NMSO Chorus and a children's chorus as well as a large orchestra. He revealed a keen sound sense that ranged from the most delicate to big swells, satisfying but never gratuitous. The opening section built from a fluttering sparseness perfect for sonar [sic] butterflies into a passionate climax, an explosion of sadness that could no longer be held in check.

With Lockington's heart fully into the music, the work received a dedicated performance from the NMSO orchestra and chorus and the Albuquerque Boy Choir. Soprano Marilyn Bernard brought a fluid warmth to ``Martha's Song,'' a touching salute to the last passenger pigeon written with pointed sparseness for a single singer and five members of the orchestra.

The program opened with Aaron Copland's ``Lincoln Portrait'' in which pianist Awadagin Pratt made a forceful narrator. That forcefulness went awry in the second half on his return as soloist in Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto.

Known for his distinctive take on the familiar, Pratt this time turned the music into a personal power trip that left the orchestra and Beethoven's score far behind. For this, the most intimate of the composer's piano concertos, Pratt tried to force his way into its inner world with distortions of tempo and heavy-handed brilliance. Other self-indulgences included playing bits of the orchestral passages, particularly distracting in the first movement orchestral exposition. The audience loved the mannered display, but Beethoven must have been shuddering.


Next: NMSO concert review: Beethoven, ``Missa Solemnis,'' Oct. 15, 1999
See also: New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus: schedule and reviews, 1995–2011
Previous: NMSO concert review: Great opera choruses, Apr. 15, 2000
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John W. Shipman, john@nmt.edu
Last updated: 2000/02/23 18:02:18
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