Michel Camilo "Three+Three" at the Blue Note
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Australian Chamber Orchestra at Zankel Hall

Australian Chamber OrchestraThe chamber orchestra is a unique musical animal, combining the fleetness of a string quartet with the power of a full symphony orchestra. Once the standard performance ensemble of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the chamber orchestra has experienced a renaissance e over the past few decades, courtesy of crack bands like the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and New York's own Orchestra of St. Luke's

Add to that list the Australian Chamber Orchestra, who performed Sunday afternoon at Carnegie's Zankel Hall. Regarded as one of Australia's leading ensembles since it was founded 40 years ago, the ACO has been led for the past 25 years by lead violinist and artistic director Richard Tognetti, who performs with the buoyant enthusiasm of someone half his age.

The ACO began with Tognetti's own string arrangement of Prokofiev's piano cycle Visions fugitives, Op. 22. Performing while standing, the ACO, dressed stylishly in black, exuded energy and confidence in this music, filled with Russian fire. 

Sharon kam, australian chamber orchestraNext was Mozart's Clarinet Concerto with soloist Sharon Kam, who I first saw perform this work during the Mozart 250th birthday concert in Prague in 2006. Kam, who has been playing this concerto since she was 16, clearly knows it cold, dancing about the stage while she wasn't playing. For an encore, she played Bela Kovacs' exotic Hommage à de Falla, based on Manuel de Falla's music.

Following intermission was Jonny Greenwood's Water, which the Radiohead guitarist wrote while in residence with the ACO in 2013. It began with a series of repeating figures in the strings and synthesizer before introducing the traditional Indian tanpura, providing a subtle, exotic texture. The music gradually built in intensity, eventually reaching the same fever pitch of slapping strings and ominous drones familiar to anyone who saw the 2008 film There Will Be Bloodfor which Greenwood composed the score. The music ended strangely, fading away like the water of the work's title.

The concert ended with Haydn's Symphony No. 83, "The Hen." Surprisingly dark and intense at the beginning, the music eventually turned into a rollicking jig, with Tognetti dancing around the stage like some Appalachian fiddler. The message was clear: this music, whether it was written two years ago or 230 years ago, is a living, bleeding thing, especially when played with the right spirit.  australian chamber orchestra

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