By CHRISTOPHER HYDE, Portland Press Herald, Thursday, November 20, 1997

The U.S. premiere of Nancy Van de Vate's "Chernobyl" by the Portland Symphony Orchestra Tuesday night was nothing short of a triumph.
Rather than a mere acknowledgement of women composers this season, "Chernobyl" stood up admirably against some of the most brilliant works in the orchestral repertoire.
Even the legions of concert-goers who dislike "modern music" were mesmerized by this highly emotional work which strains the resources of the symphony orchestra without resorting to any accoustical tricks.
"Chernobyl" is a powerful depiction of modern events, like Van de Vate's "Katyn," without being program music. It could be staged well as a ballet, pitting vulnerable human beings against a dangerous technology run amok. The humans subdue the monster, at a terrible cost, but it continues to seethe viciously under the ground.
The work begins with Van de Vate's seminal tone color idea, a contrast of extremely high and low pitches in the strings, and builds continuously to a volcanic eruption, with some wonderful percussion effects. The central section, with a surprisingly melodic woodwind theme, also builds to a crashing death march, at which point the sounds of a meltdown begin to diminish gradually.
Asked how such a pleasant person could write such terrifying music, Van de Vate said: "Wait 'til you hear my 'All Quiet on the Western Front.' "
The work was showcased perfectly among three well-loved pieces ...: Handel's Royal Fireworks Music...Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, sounding almost classical after the Van de Vate, and the Sibelius Symphony No. 2....
The orchestra outdid itself at every turn....

Christopher Hyde's Classical Beat column appears weekly in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Nancy Van de Vate's "Chernobyl" is released by Vienna Modern Masters on VMM 3010

go back to press index page