During the pre-concert talk, Associate Conductor Lawrence Loh introduced Braxton Blake, the reconstructor of the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra after Bach. To hear the description of the origin of the piece was to listen to someone who was in love with the object of his work, the recreation of an early Bach composition. As a researcher myself who has had to try to recreate the thoughts of others, I appreciate the history of a known, lost viola concerto that included source material for later pieces, and the process for bringing together the various strains from these child pieces and creating a new whole. Bringing a composer/reconstructor to speak of a labor of love added to the pre-concert talk.
I wonder what is the place of a reconstruction such as this. The other analogy I can think of is the ‘Q’ source that is thought to be a common source used by the Christian gospels of Matthew and Luke. You can attempt to reconstruct it, but you end up with material that you already have. In the case of this, a reconstruction of what was an work done at an early stage in the composer’s career becomes an interpolation, something that fits squarely within the boundaries of the composer’s known work. And the result is something with the musical phrases and lines which are certainly evocative of Bach, and pleasing to the ear in the same ways, but as the goal was to reproduce the creativity of another, adds little to the repertoire (other than the notes and commentary Blake wrote as he worked).
The Bruch violin concerto that followed was a very different flavor. Instead of the intricate patterns of a Bach by a small ensemble with a solo viola, we had long flowing phrases being passed between the solo violin and the orchestra. The piece gave more room for the soloist and the orchestra to be expressive and show their range, and the audience clearly responded.
Next to these, the second half was a different flavor. Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 "From a New World" is clearly a piece that conductor Manfred Honeck knows and loves and just watching him was a joy in itself as he performed his work with his whole body. As I listened I was also reminded of Loh’s introductory notes of how Dvorak both drew from and contributed to American born musical forms. And I could hear how this was part of a rich conversation of a country that was breaking out of its adolescence with themes that evoked wide expanses, sadness, struggle, greatness and triumph.
As a program, it may have suffered by having pieces that were so varied. The intricate patterns of Bach did not seem to fit with the lines of Bruch, or especially the Dvorak with its expressiveness. I wonder if I would have thought better of the Bach reconstruction in a different setting.