The New Century Chamber Orchestra woke up in Ann Arbor, Michigan to more cold and snow on Saturday morning. But by this time the group were so experienced as travelers that the weather was easy to ignore — everyone was focused on the final concert of the tour that night at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Auditorium.
New Century’s concert that night was to be presented by the University Musical Society (UMS), among the most respected organizations of its kind in the country. Ann Grove from the staff explained that every season, UMS offers 60-65 performances, with larger ensembles in the 2800-seat Hill Auditorium (currently celebrating its 100th anniversary) and smaller ensembles in 1100-seat Rackham Auditorium. Other orchestras on the UMS series this season: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg, and the New York Philharmonic. And at Rackham Auditorium, the concert following New Century’s would be the Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet.
Rackham is a huge Art Deco Palace, built in the 1930s, and completely renovated 4-5 years ago. The hall is shaped like a wide semi-circle, with the stage along the straight, bottom edge. There are elegantly painted ceilings and grand hallways and staircases.
By concert time, the hall was full and buzzing. This audience remembered the concert Nadja and the Orchestra performed for them two years ago.
The Orchestra entered from both sides of the stage to loud, welcoming applause. After the Mendelssohn, Nadja (who had been presented by UMS five times previously and is very popular in Ann Arbor) told the audience that this concert had special connections to the University of Michigan. Most importantly, the Orchestra was performing the Romanza for Solo Violin and String Orchestra, a work it had commissioned from long-time faculty member William Bolcom, when he was Featured Composer during her second season as Music Director. She also pointed out that Clarice Assad, New Century’s first Featured Composer and arranger of our Bachianas Brazilieras No. 5, had been a graduate student at Michigan, where she had studied with Michael Daugherty, our upcoming Featured Composer for the 2013-14 season.
And Nadja’s performance of the Romanza, which of course Bolcom wrote with her sound and style specifically in mind, was the finest yet, with more sparkle, humor, and passion than ever before. The audience responded immediately with a huge ovation, and Nadja waved Mr. Bolcom to the stage, where, after hugs and kisses, they held hands and received the audience’s loud, extended, appreciation.
The Villa-Lobos was next, and its sweet, flowing melody took on a special poignance for the Orchestra, as this was a final performance of this wonderful piece on this tour.
After intermission came Metamorphosen in a refined, elegant performance that again moved the audience to its feet with loud bravos and cheering.
For a few of the musicians, ties to Michigan made the final concert particularly special. Pictured below: Evan Price and Susie Babini lived in Michigan; Carla Maria Rodrigues, Lynne Richburg, and Liza Zurlinden are alumni of the University of Michigan; and Emily Onderdonk was born in Michigan! Carla and Lynne were even roommates their freshman year at the University, so performing at Rackham together Saturday evening made for a very memorable experience.
After the concert, John and Paula Gambs hosted a party for the Orchestra and staff at a nearby restaurant (below). There were many congratulatory toasts and expressions of thanks, but the longest applause, this time, came from the orchestra itself for Nadja, their beloved Music Director.
The celebration had a bittersweet quality for everyone. Even though the tour was two and a half weeks long, no one wanted it to be over. The New Century family was closer than it had ever been before, playing more beautifully, and with greater commitment.
The tour provided the Orchestra an opportunity to grow, and to become an even finer instrument.