The String Orchestra of the Rockies' upcoming concert features an ancient instrument and starts with baroque classics. It will end with a concerto for an electric version of the bass lute that was written only in the past month. The custom-built instrument is like a "lute reimagined" that will appeal to fans of electric guitar, said SOR director Fern Glass Boyd, a professor of cello at the University of Montana.
The concert is a first in more ways than one. The orchestra, a professional ensemble that draws players from around the state and region, has never featured a lute soloist. John Lenti of Seattle is a member of baroque orchestras in that city and Portland, Oregon, who has ties to Montana through the I-90 Collective, a baroque ensemble with members throughout the region (hence the name).
Composer Aaron Grad wrote "Strange Seasons" especially for Lenti. Boyd said Grad, a 30-something composer, has a background in jazz guitar that's audible in his writing for the piece. The string arrangements show the hypnotic influence of Philip Glass and other minimalist composers who used short motifs with repetition and variation.
The title refers to Vivaldi's famous suite, The Four Seasons. Grad included poems for each section that will be printed in the program at Sunday's concert. Boyd said it's a tribute to his hometown and its weather.
Overall, Grad is "reimagining this ancient instrument in contemporary music." Lenti will perform on lute and electric theorbo, a custom electric version of a bass lute. It's equipped with a two necks: one fretted neck with seven strings; and one with seven "open strings tuned in a scale, like a harp," according to Grad's website.
Boyd said the piece will appeal to fans of contemporary guitar music, since it fuses qualities of the lute with amplification.
Before Lenti plugs in, he and the SOR will take listeners on a tour of Baroque music.
The concert opens with the Sinfonia No. 2 in G major by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Boyd said it's not one of his most famous works but it boasts "all the arpeggiation and fast figuration and the brilliance and virtuosity we've come to expect from Vivaldi."
The SOR has ordered Baroque bows, a new experiment for them. The bows are lighter, shorter and have half as much hair as modern ones. Boyd said they "draw a different timbre or tone color."
After the Vivaldi, they dive into Chacony in G Minor by Henry Purcell (1659-1758), on which Lenti will provide chordal accompaniment for the strings.
Lenti won't perform on Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3 by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). There's a lute connection, though: Boyd said Respighi based his writing on lute pieces from the Renaissance.
On the final two pieces, "Lachrimae Antiquae" for solo lute and strings by John Dowland (1563-1626) and "Madrigal: Susanne un jour," for solo lute and strings by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), Lenti will be featured as soloist with a pared-down ensemble.
Then comes the new piece by Grad, completing a concert that Boyd said promises to be traditional and cutting-edge at the same time.