I heard ECCO on 4/15/19 at Advent Lutheran Church, as part of their Music Mondays series. ECCO is the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, and my friend Becca Fischer was playing with them. This was the first time I heard Becca play as anything but the first violinist in the Chiara String Quartet.
The program was called *ECCO: Chaconne.* ECCO is a chamber orchestra without a conductor - - this is unusual but not unique, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra doesn't have a conductor either. It's one thing for a group to perform without a designated leader (chamber music happens that way all the time), it's something else for a group to come up with their own programming, choose soloists, and run rehearsals without a designated leader. I know from my friends at the Mifflin Street Coop that decision by consensus can be a headache.
They opened with a set of short Renaissance pieces by Pedro Guerrero and Josquin des Prez and a fantasy on a Peruvian melody, arranged by Maureen Nelson. These pieces were played with verve and flair, they were a good way for the audience to warm up their ears and to get used to looking at the group. They're all string players (in this performance, eight violinists, four violists, four cellists, and bassist), and the violinists and violists all play standing up. Which is fun to watch.
Next they played Benjamin Britten's arrangement of Henry Purcell's "Chacony" for strings. I think Britten took some harmonic liberties, which made the piece more grand and exciting.
The last piece on the first half was the Britten "Chacony from String Quartet #2." I know Britten from his operas and vocal music, but holy wow, this piece knocked me out. It had a fascinating balance of intellect and drama. There were showy solos for violin, viola, and cello - - these soloists were not named in the program, which added to the egalitarian vibe of the group. The ensemble had a great sense of the overarching shape of the piece. The ending had half the players playing the angular, sinister main theme with the other half playing a bright, flashing major chord, the same chord once or twice a measure. The chord itself sounded like joy, but paired with the main theme, it made me think of someone profoundly unhappy looking at the joy of someone else. Glowering. Someone had better make this piece into a ballet, if it hasn't been done already.
My reason for going to the concert (apart from seeing/hearing Becca) was to hear *Leyendas, an Andean Walkabout,* a piece that Gabriela Lena Frank wrote for the Chiara String Quartet. I heard them play it once or twice, it's a thrilling piece. Frank adapted it for chamber orchestra, and I expected the added depth to take away from the intimacy of the quartet, but that wasn't the case. The music is so well made it works equally well in both formats. Beccca played the solo, and it was of course full of passion. One moment that didn't work as well in this version: the first violin has a wailing solo in one movement, which didn't have the same unbridled intensity in a group as it had with a solo player, it sounded more plush and smooth with a group of players. Thank you, Frank, for keeping a few choice sections in the string quartet format, it gave a nice focus and variety of texture to those sections.
They finished with Bach's "Chaconne" from the Violin Partita #2, arranged by Michi Wiancko. I didn't write any notes, I just let it wash over me.