James Ross is already making a name for himself as the new music director of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. Ross is known for his innovative programs with the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra and the National Orchestral Institute. The ensemble will be filled with new energy from Ross during the 75th season. His latest program, which was heard on Saturday night at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall, was devoted to the first half exclusively American composers and also focused on the music of women.
The ceremony was the world premiere of a new cello concerto by Washington composer Jessica Krash. The piece was written for a small orchestra with limited strings and individual woodwinds, horn and trumpet. It is a living series of fantasy landscapes that are characterized by economy. Bluesy expressions and allusions to Latin rhythms characterize the texture, with particularly wistful melodic writing in the slow movement.
The cellist of the soloist Tanya Anisimova was miked, a decision that was possibly responsible for intonation differences between her and the orchestra. Her subtle playing explored many delicate sounds, even at the end of the last movement, where the piece was apparently ready to rise to a frantic finale, then dissolve again into airy stillness.
Ross combined the new work with works by Leonard Bernstein, a composer to whom Krash owes an important stylistic debt and whose 100th anniversary is finally coming to an end. In the Overture to West Side Story, and especially in the Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, the orchestra played with enthusiasm and dirty readiness, though not always with absolute precision.
The concert ended with a moody interpretation of Mendelssohn's Third Symphony, known as "Scottish," because the composer outlined some of his themes during a tour of Scotland. In a funny gesture for the lovers of the romantic landscape of Ossian and Walter Scott, the ASO hosted a group of red-cooked bagpipe players, whose outside led the unknown venue to the right place before the concert. The waves were the strongest on the waves, especially on the five horns, while the more exposed runs on the brass and strings suffered from clarity.
Ross introduced the play by talking about Mendelssohn's older sister Fanny and how the world of classical music had excluded women like her for so long. He then invited ASO pianist Sophie Cook to Fanny Mendelssohn's Notturno in G minor as a prelude to the symphony. "We need to hear more of those voices we ignored," Ross said in a welcome gesture that brought evening programs together.