"Inside the Classics" is a series of Minnesota Orchestra educational concerts that focus on one composition, introducing and exploring it in the first half and presenting a complete performance in the second half. This weekend, the composition is the world premiere of "Acadia" by rising star Judd Greenstein. It is an engaging work that is a significant addition to the orchestral repertoire.
The composition was commissioned especially for "Inside the Classics," and the origins of the commission are unique. Usually, one large donation pays for a commission, but the source of this one was more populist: the result of the orchestra's Musical MicroCommission, where more than 400 donations made up the fee.
As with all the "Inside the Classics" programs, principal conductor Sarah Hicks and host, violist Sam Bergman, here joined by Greenstein, help the audience to get inside the piece, creating a context for it and giving insights into the composition process.
"Acadia" derives its name from Acadia National Park in Maine, where Greenstein spent a camping and hiking weekend at a pivotal time in his life. It is not strictly programmatic but creates a wealth of moods, from gently idyllic to intensely emotional, that reflect the complexity of his experience.
The music is thoroughly eclectic. There were passages rooted in minimalism with its pulsing repetitions, overlaid with nature sounds, familiar from many Romantic tone poems. A theme of rising chords was played in concert with long-lined, sensuous melodies. And moments echoed the openheartedness of Aaron Copland.
Greenstein demonstrated the influence of Ravel in the rich layers of sound he created out of many individual pieces. Hicks was particularly successful in directing the ear through all the musical complexities.
At times, the work sounded like a lush, epic film score, sometimes complicated by strong dissonances. But sections composed using modal scales created the feeling of innocent folk music.
He could whip the music into a frenzied cacophony, but he always seemed completely in control of the effects he was creating. In the finale, he drew all the elements together into a quiet and very satisfying conclusion.
The world premiere performance will be available later this week as a free download at insidetheclassics.org. It is well worth hearing, especially given the orchestra's fiery, committed performance.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.