Last night (Feb. 24) in Chico, CA, the North State Symphony gave an enthralling area premiere of a new work by composer Libby Larsen. Dancing Man Rhapsody was written for violinist Terri Baune (Concertmaster of the North State Symphony) and commissioned by the NSS together with several other California orchestras. Baune was the Concertmaster of The Women’s Philharmonic and has known Larsen for many years. Maestro Scott Seaton is in his second year as Music Director of the NSS, and is infusing a new energy into the orchestra with his innovative programming, and lively rapport with audiences and the musicians. The program also featured another recent work, Schism, by David Biedenbender, as well as Rimsky-Korskaov’s Snow Maiden Suite and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 (Spring).
Dancing Man Rhapsody has five sections, with descriptive titles, played without a break. The opening (“Dancing Man”) is playful, with its startling offbeat finger-snaps and a swinging line in the solo. Then “A Sudden Conga” breaks out with a Latin percussion riff, and violin and brass in vigorous exchanges. A jazzy plucked string bass gives a continuous pulse to the next section, while the strings soar in searing melodies. Here, the intense lyricism infuses the music with a rich, building, philosophical introspection. The warmth of the string timbre, and the musicality of the entire orchestra in shaping the long lines gave depth and insight to this central passage.
Some spontaneous cadenza-like solos transition to a faster repeated rhythm, and a section (“Backwards in High Heels”) rife with quotations – the repeated notes become the “Chopsticks” theme, and there are references to children’s songs, Mozart, Gershwin (and others). The solo violin interjects with jazzy riffs, and as if (paradoxically) the quotations have unleashed the music, it builds with a wild, exhilarating energy. The last section (“Dancin’ with Kravitz,” a reference to Funk musician Lenny Kravitz) cavorts and spirals with a stomping, fervent drive until ending with one final explosive violin solo. Terry Baune was incandescent as the soloist in this demanding work, incorporating jazz, classical and rock idioms, and Maestro Seaton led the orchestra with great flexibility and power.
Dancing Man Rhapsody is an engaging work I want to hear again, so I hope it will be dancing across the country soon!