Most concertos feature one soloist playing with an orchestra, and a smattering of works feature two or three. Enter eighth blackbird, a contemporary chamber ensemble that served as a six-person solo group with the Kansas City Symphony on Friday night at Helzberg Hall.
The performers presented “On a Wire,” composed by Jennifer Higdon, a professor at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and one of the most creative and successful composers on the contemporary American musical scene.
The work opened with the sextet members playing the open-lidded grand piano by stroking, cajoling, plucking and striking the strings with fingers and mallets. They weaved an intriguing aural tapestry.
The orchestra soon entered, and a fascinating sonic contrast between orchestra and soloists ensued. Rapid tempos and dense texture lent a sense of perpetual motion, occasionally flawed by slips in the string intonation.
The central slower section featured some particularly soulful playing by percussionist Matthew Duvall, cellist.Nicholas Photinos and violinist.Yvonne Lam.
"On the Wire" is alternately exciting and poignant. Eighth blackbird and the orchestra played with conviction, expression and fire. Higdon joined the performers onstage for warm and sustained applause.
The concert opened with a rousing version of Gioacchino Rossini's Overture toLa gazza ladra
(the thieving magpie.)
Sporting snare drums on each side of the stage, the orchestra exuded a crisp, buoyant sound. The central slow string section was well blended and effervescent. The ending was classic Rossini — lighthearted and exciting.
The evening concluded with Beethoven's monumental Symphony No. 3, nicknamed the "Eroica" Symphony. Composed in 1804, the music carries a sense of drama and majesty rare in the music of Beethoven’s contemporaries.
Stern and company rose to the challenge from the outset, infusing the opening explosive chords with energy and passion, and the subsequent phrases with lyricism and eloquence.
The somber second movement, a funeral march, began as a slow, expressive theme, later transformed into an exciting imitative passage. Only in the softest moments at the very end did the orchestra seem a bit anemic and not quite together.
The finale, a colossal set of variations, brought the concert to a stirring conclusion. As a fitting tribute, the orchestra remained seated when Stern invited them to join in the applause, to allow the audience to acknowledge the conductor.
The program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday in Helzberg Hall.