Miami Herald
By Lawrence A. Johnson
October 13, 2008
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Big hall a perfect fit for big symphony
The Knight Concert Hall filled in for the Roman Colosseum for the Florida premiere of John Corigliano's Circus Maximus.

By age 25, most young people are moving out of the house, striking out on their own and starting new lives.

So too has Festival Miami, which opened Thursday evening with a salute to composer John Corigliano at the Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center.

Of the three Corigliano works performed by University of Miami Frost School of Music forces, the most significant was the Florida premiere of his Circus Maximus for wind ensemble.

Inspired by the spatial opportunities of a large modern concert hall, Corigliano's third symphony is set in eight connected movements and calls for a large wind ensemble, including marching band, saxophone quartet and 11 trumpets spread out across the balconies.

As its name implies, Circus Maximus draws a sharp parallel between the massive entertainment spectacles of ancient Rome and contemporary America with our own, plugged-in, downloading, iPhone-equipped lives. The composer implies that, instead of focusing on the world's survival, our preoccupation with electronics may lead to the same end as that of the Roman Empire.

It's safe to say that the Knight Concert Hall hasn't had a test drive like this since the Chicago Symphony performed Richard Strauss two seasons ago. The effects and spatial scoring worked magnificently, from the antiphonal trumpet fanfares of the opening Introitus to the sultry insinuating seductions of Screen/Siren, with the saxophone quartet and double-bass placed in the second-tier balcony.

The symphony has its deafening moments and cacophony, but also passages of great beauty as with the Prayer movement, a fragile searching solace that rises to a rich lyrical outpouring. Corigliano's inventive use of instruments is on full display in this symphony, as in Night Music I with the ambient nocturnal sounds and uncannily lifelike lupine wails.

Only the Channel Surfing third movement didn't quite come off Thursday, the contrasts too ironed out. Otherwise, Gary Green led a powerful, well-prepared performance with the gifted young musicians of the Frost Wind Ensemble excelling in their varied assignments.

The Red Violin Concerto is full of Corigliano's frenetic drive, percussive rhythmic bite and creative instrumental writing, particularly in the final movement. Yet the expression is largely lyrical, wistful and rhapsodic, offering myriad technical challenges and expressive opportunities for the violin soloist. Corigliano could not have wanted for a more compelling solo performance than that served up by Jennifer Koh. The violinist tackled the complexities with a crackling intensity that gave an edge to the driving passages while her tight vibrato added tartness to the more lyrical pages.

The Frost Symphony Orchestra lacks the sonority and gleam of a professional ensemble though the student musicians performed solidly and with conviction, unaided by the stolid conducting of Yongyan Hu.

The evening led off with Corigliano's choral setting of Baudelaire's L'invitation au voyage. In his local debut, conductor Joshua Habermann balanced the Frost Chorale's sections and elicited a wide array of coloring and dynamics, which bodes well for his leadership of the Master Chorale of South Florida.

© 2008 Miami Herald

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