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March 1, 2015

By McLaren Harris

The Orchestra of Indian Hill, conductor Bruce Hangen and Ludwig van Beethoven collaborated on Sunday, March 1, at the Littleton Performing Arts Center to craft a remarkable musical achievement: Beethoven's “Eroica” Symphony, arguably the finest work in the entire symphonic repertoire, and the high levels of instrumental skill and interpretative artistry of an orchestra and conductor in top form.


Beethoven's Third Symphony took the afternoon's top prize, if any were to be given, but Mihail Jojatu's solo performance in Ernst Bloch's “Schelomo” rhapsody for cello and orchestra also received much deserved acclaim, coming second in a program that opened with Jennifer Higdon's tone painting, “Blue Cathedral.”


Now more than 200 years old, the “Eroica” Symphony is well loved and well understood, but it still never fails to amaze the listener with its innovative ingenuity and brilliance, coming on the heels of the Viennese Classical tradition exemplified by Mozart and Haydn. Harmonic dissonance and repeated diminished seventh chords preceding their resolution, the hush and the agony of the “Marche funébre,” the quick tempo and bold use of the horns in the scherzo (no minuet!), and the contrapuntal development in the finale all proclaimed a new era in symphonic history.


The orchestra appeared ready to play its role in this “revolution,” taking its cues from Bruce Hangen's vigorous and sweeping arm gestures, shaking shoulders and mindful attention to every passage. Nancy Dimock's tenderly mournful oboe lines, Melissa Mielens's flute brilliance and the horn section's full-voiced resonance are worthy of special mention. As a whole, the orchestra expressed its determination to do their utmost for this monumental work.


Mihail Jojatu, now a Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist, is also well known to Indian Hill audiences from his work with the orchestra and chamber ensembles. He has the technical skill to handle the demands of Bloch's “Schelomo,” and what's more, he possesses the spirit and understanding to grasp the emotional significance and depth of the religious and secular struggles that formed the inspiration of Bloch's writing. It embraces the moving, often violent history recounted in the Jewish Bible, expressing the emotions and the “soul,” as Bloch put it, of Jewish tradition, rather than an attempt to imitate Jewish musical styles..


Jojatu's fulsome cello timbres, sure control throughout the instrument's range and dynamic energy fulfilled Bloch's vision and made it accessible as an Old Testament companion. It earned him – both of them – a standing ovation.


Jennifer Higdon has more performances and awards to her credit than her familiarity on programs would indicate. Her musical vision in “Blue Cathedral” is brought out in varied, even lush instrumental colors, expressing a surreal feeling of walking through a vast cathedral and casting eyes upward through a crystalline structure towards the blue of the heavens. While somewhat ambiguous thematically and formally, it is tonally receptive and well connected to the vision. The Indian Hill musicians gave it a sure and sensitive reading.

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