Reviews of the San José Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Weaving Olden Dances

The following reviews are of the San José Chamber Orchestra’s performance of my Weaving Olden Dances: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra that took place at Le Petit Trianon Theater (72 N. 5th Street) in downtown San José, California on Saturday August 29, at 8PM and Sunday August 30, at 7PM.

By Paul Hertelendy, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of Aug. 31-Sept. 7, 2009
Vol. 12, No. 5
Read the full review here.

The clever idea of a commissioning consortium enables several groups around the country (and not just one) to present a new work om concert. The San José Chamber Orchestra opened its season with the West Coast premiere of New Yorker Charles Griffin’s “Weaving Olden Dances,” part of a merry-go-round taking the dances to four different venues spanning both coasts. It’s a big 31-minute, four-movement work of modern sounds laid over traditional forms—a well-made piece avoiding the expected clichés.

Griffin, 41, enters skillfully into disparate realms. An agitated timpani opening suggests an action movie, giving way to a perpetual-motion ostinato that the composers says was inspired by the gamelan. The Pavane section that follows is lovely, escapist romanticism soaring skyward. The third movement is the most overtly dance-like, with the orchestra parroting the broad strums of the flamenco guitar running through modes as well as the beat of the zapateado dance—a latino tap dance without the tap shoes. The finale, after Irish models, is a joyous noise rushing to a climax. The format idea is derived from the dance suites so prevalent 300 years ago.

There were various solos within this concerto for orchestra, none more notable nor more praiseworthy than on viola (Eleanor Angel) and cello (Lucinda Breed Lenicheck).

Altogether, “Weaving Olden Dances” is an effective work with definite audience appeal. And Music Director Barbara Day Turner led it with high energy, nuance and consistency.

By Gary Lemco
The Classical Music Guide Online
Read the full review here.

The musical surprise came in the form of Griffin’s four-movement Concerto for Chamber Orchestra, which might be a distant cousin of pieces like Cowell’s Persian Set. A sort of Baroque dance-suite, the music opened with a Trance Overture, in the manner of the gamelan orchestra of Bali, percussive, chiming, clangorous, brash, and declamatory. Long pedal points punctuated the interlocking rhythmic impulses. Some might have thought this music composed by Villa-Lobos. The second movement, Pavane, sounded like a medieval “chest” or “consort” of instruments, utilizing a concertante violin to intone a 13th-century cantus firmus called Novus Miles Sequitur. The third movement, Tierra de luz, Cielo de Tierra, enjoyed a concertante cello opening. The music became quite syncopated, often touching upon the world of Ginastera‘s Estancia ballet. At its climax, the music became a fugue in flamenco style. The last movement, Weaving Olden Dances, began with a viola that lisped in Irish accents, inviting us to a fierce gigue or reel that incorporates Sean Nos and Appalachian dance elements, allusions to the music for Braveheart and Aaron Copland. Almost every member of the orchestra had a virtuoso, solo run or riff to offer the color of his contribution. Eclectic it was certainly—so even Bartok may have had a hand in it—ending with something like a sea-shanty in Technicolor. But, that it was a successful vehicle for Turner and her SJCO there could be no doubt.

By Richard Scheinin
San José Mercury News
Read the full review here.

The bulk of the program’s first half was devoted to a new work by Charles B. Griffin, a native New Yorker who lives in Latvia. A nomadic, international sensibility informs his “Weaving Olden Dances: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra,” which draws inspiration from Indonesian, French, flamenco and Irish/Appalachian dance forms.

Commissioned by a consortium of American orchestras (including the San Jose Chamber Orchestra), the work unfolds in four movements.
The first echoes the jig-sawed structure and rhythms of the Balinese gamelan; its highlight is a sinuous and long-lined solo for violin (Cynthia Baehr, here), composed in the manner of Lou Harrison. The second movement, a Pavane, built from a 13th century hymn, is lushly elegiac. The final movements, respectively, draw on flamenco and Celtic melodies — rhythm-charged, but remarkably generic, as if inspired by World Music 101 classes.
Hats off to Day Turner (who has devoted much of her career to performing music of living composers) and the orchestra’s many soloists (i.e. Bruce Foster, such an expressive clarinetist) for giving this piece a shot.

Women’s chorus perfects each note

Women’s chorus perfects each note
Choral Artists present powerfully varied concert

By Tom Strini of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted: Feb. 15, 2009

Sharon Hansen had an opinion about every last note at Saturday’s Milwaukee Choral Artists concert. The micro-managing conductor conveyed her opinions in clear, amazingly detailed gestures. They got instant, satisfying results from her 17 female singers.

It made no difference that Hansen, recovering from foot surgery, conducted from a wheelchair. The concentration and commitment on both sides was palpable in the cozy nave of St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa. Watching them interact is almost as great a pleasure as hearing the remarkable music they make.


Their singing was intelligent and beautiful without fail throughout an engaging and varied program. Arrangements of two Debussy songs gave them a chance to do what they do best of all, which is tune and balance complex chords so finely that the harmonies glow like a sonic aurora borealis. Vaughan Williams’ “In Windsor Forest,” a substantial suite drawn from Shakespeare, showcased Hansen’s firm grasp of larger forms. “Old Devil Moon” and “That Old Black Magic” (smartly arranged by Choral Artist Paula Foley Tillen) showed that swing comes as naturally as anything to the MCA.

Music for a small women’s choir is little-known country for most of us, so MCA concerts also afford the pleasure of discovery. This time, the revelations were Alice Parker’s delicate, filigreed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Fairy Songs”; Eric Whitacre’s “She Weeps Over Rahoon,” a sensual setting of James Joyce, in which slithery vocal and English horn (nice work by Karli Larsen) lines overlap like serpents in love; and, most of all, Charles Griffin’s “El Paso de la Siguiriya,” on a dark, dreamy Federico Garcia Lorca poem.

“El Paso” is a flamenco a cappella fantasy with episodes of rhythmic clapping, melisma inflected in the Andalusian way and choruses in Spanish dance rhythms. Mezzo Rebecca Davies was ravishing in the solo that is the soul of this piece. She must have listened to a great deal of flamenco singing to prepare; she was at once elegant and earthy.

Much of the choral work in “El Paso” is in free rhythm. Hansen shaped it with a soloist’s latitude. Seventeen voices responded, and the choir became a single voice.

E-mail Tom Strini at