But Pittman and the orchestra — and especially Danielle Maddon, the stunning violin soloist — came wickedly to life in the Vores. The composer himself described this piece as a study in “doubles” and “doppelgängers” — dualities, in which you hear music and gestures you’ve heard before in startling new combinations and contexts. It begins with orchestral chords combining the extremities of high and low, moving quickly on to a series of brief episodes that go from woodwind trills to a slapstick sounding like a cap-gun, to staccato oboe notes (some irritating bird call?), and then rapidly slurred up-and-down trumpet runs. The soloist starts with single notes, widely spaced. Soon, though, all these separate pieces come together. The single violin notes begin to form a melody, the orchestral episodes begin to coalesce. By the end of the first movement, we’re hearing a total continuum that ends with a long high note on the violin.
The second movement alternates repeated brooding orchestral growlings with passages of the high violin flying over twittering, fluttering winds. The climax of the movement, and of the whole piece, is an extended circling, spiraling violin cadenza, with the orchestra finally joining in at a Petrushka-like carnival. It’s an exciting piece and it would be hard to imagine a better performance. Does that mean that the greater difficulties a contemporary work required got more rehearsal time than the simpler but more exposed traditional music, or that the performers were really more engaged by this more challenging score? Or both?
DONALD TEETERS’S FAREWELL
The Boston Cecilia ended its 136th season on a note of understated nostalgia. This marked the last Cecilia concert under the direction of Donald Teeters, who has been leading the group since 1968. Over those 44 years, his signature devotion to British music included inspired performances of Britten and Holst and a record number of Handel oratorios, many unfamiliar to Boston. This final concert was also something of a testament to Cecilia composer-in-residence Scott Wheeler (director of Dinosaur Annex), with two premieres and an old favorite (the charming Whiskers and Rhymes, from 1992, with its children’s rhymes and Spanish dance rhythms with elegant percussion accompaniment).
The new pieces are the gorgeously elegiac choral setting of poem by Shalin Liu, Embraced by Velvet Night (happily repeated after intermission), and New LoveSong Waltzes (commissioned by Boston Cecilia for this occasion), lilting and tender settings of Donne and Shakespeare (my favorite, the urgent “Take, Oh Take Those Lips Away”). Another high point was Teeters’s third programming of Donald Martino’s 1971 Seven Pious Pieces (or at least six of them), settings of delightful and scary devotional poems by Robert Herrick, the 17th-century poet better known for such secular rhymes as “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” The writing is so post-romantically melodic it would be hard to guess the technique was 12-tone. The well-blended chorus, pianists Barbara Bruns (Teeters’s longtime assistant) and Carolyn Day Skelton, superb violinist Sharan Leventhal, and percussionist Frank Epstein all rose to the sweet bittersweetness of the occasion. A prolonged and loving standing ovation followed, and not for this concert alone.