Premiere for Cello and Orchestra, Inspired by a Poem

New York Youth Symphony, with Jay Campbell on cello, and Ryan McAdams conducting

Premiere for Cello and Orchestra, Inspired by a Poem

Through its invaluable First Music program, the New York Youth Symphony has commissioned works from more than 100 emerging composers since 1984. The orchestra’s concert on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall brought the premiere of “That Blue Repair,” a kind of mini-concerto by Chris Rogerson.

Born in 1988, Mr. Rogerson is just a couple of years older than many of the players, who executed the gleaming piece with confidence, and Jay Campbell, an adventurous cellist and an undergraduate at the Juilliard School, who performed the solo part with subtle power and rich tone.

The 10-minute work begins with glistening high strings eventually countered by a gloomy undercurrent. The brooding and glimmering alternate, subsiding into a low rumble as the soloist starts a lyrical line upward. The orchestra surges sympathetically underneath him.

There are inspired, well-devised touches throughout. As Mr. Campbell went higher and higher up the fingerboard, his line was suddenly taken over by the winds at the same pitch. Mr. Rogerson has a gift for transitions, for moving us from moment to moment, section to section, while maintaining the coherence of the whole.

The soloist re-enters, more impassioned this time, with a burst of faster, spikier passagework, before receding again, accompanied by beautiful bell-like riffs in the harp. The weakest part of the work follows, a murky section of standard post-Romantic dissonant waves under the quivering solo cello. It feels a little like film music.

But the ending is lovely: gossamer, calligraphic runs up and down the cello, barely audible over uneasy chords that resolve into the same high, quiet shimmer with which the work began. You got the moving sense of a slow attempt at restoration, as in lines from a poem by Joan Hutton Landis that inspired Mr. Rogerson: “these worked lines, their tearing out,/their weaving up, that blue repair —.”

In Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, which followed “That Blue Repair,” there is a similar sense of a work building, breaking and re-erecting itself. The orchestra played with strength: in the second movement, the shivery, muted melodies vanished and reappeared out of nothing, and the third movement’s dark parody of the first notes of Pachelbel’s Canon had both weight and shadowy nostalgia.

While the overture from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” which opened the concert, felt jittery and brash, as if the players’ nerves were still settling, the orchestra members were coolly controlled and responsive in the Bartok, with an especially shining and assured performance from the brasses.

Publication Information

March 13, 2012
The New York Times
Zachary Woolfe

Related Concert