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New NCCO director Daniel Hope leads with insight, virtuosity

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Daniel Hope solos in “Recomposed,” the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s concert series featuring innovative arrangements. (Courtesy Nate Rabiroff)

New Century Chamber Orchestra, the Bay Area ensemble presenting classical music in distinct and novel ways since 1992, has reaffirmed its mission with the ascension of violinist Daniel Hope as its fourth music director and concertmaster.

On Thursday at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, Hope appeared for the first time in his new capacity with the orchestra in “Recomposed,” a program of post-1900 imaginative arrangements of works dating back to the Renaissance, leading the 15-member group with verve and synergy.

Following former NCCO directors Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (2008-17), Krista Bennion Feeney (1999-2006) and Stuart Canin (1992-99), the South African-born, London-raised Hope, 45, pursued an alternative path from the start.

Instead of beginning with Henry Purcell’s Chacony in G minor, as the program noted, the ensemble — opening a four-performance series across the Bay Area, including a Saturday concert in San Francisco — opened with a dreamy rendition of Vaughan Williams’ elegiac “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.”

Next, Hope showcased his instrumental chops in the second movement of Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor (arranged by Benjamin Britten), with sensitivity and warmth. The piece was a favorite of Hope’s mentor, the late, great Yehudi Menuhin. Hope had a close relationship with Menuhin when he was a child; his mother was Menuhin’s secretary and manager.

Making contextual, often humorous, comments about each piece in the program, Hope called Peter Warlock’s “Capriol Suite” the one-hit wonder of its time. The set of dances, which the NCCO dispatched with stylish grace, is based on tunes from six of Thoinot Arbeau’s Renaissance dances.

After intermission, the ensemble played the Chacony in G minor, whose arrangement by Britten, Hope observed, is so well known in the United Kingdom that many there think it was written by Britten. Yet Britten, a great admirer of Purcell, polished off a magisterial work, which the NCCO unfurled in a sonorous presentation, with dazzling cadenzas from Hope, acting principal cellist Michelle Djokic and principal violist Anna Kruger.

Max Richter’s “Recomposed: Vivaldi-The Four Seasons,” a re-imagination of the omnipresent Baroque masterwork, closed the concert. The Richter opus — in which Hope soloed in its concert and recording debuts in 2012 — includes the familiar Vivaldi themes, yet has captivating woven-in passages and textural variations of instruments, such as a bird-like opening of “Spring.”

Under Hope’s insightful guidance, NCCO’s colorful, energetic account is a welcome, fresh take on a venerable warhorse.

REVIEW

New Century Chamber Orchestra
Where: Taube Atrium Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9
Tickets: $29 to $61
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com
Note: Performances also are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Oshman JCC in Palo Alto and 3 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael.

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