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Indian Hill Orchestra, Cellist
Mihail Jojatu in Top Form
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.
A Major Ensemble in Our Midst:
The Indian Hill Orchestra and Mahler
April 16, 2014
Audiences that have attended this past season's concerts by the Orchestra of Indian Hill have been rewarded with performances that could have come from any major, first-rank orchestra around. On Sunday, April 16 at the Littleton Performing Arts Center, their high expectations were fulfilled, even extended.
Conductor Bruce Hangen chose a program comprising Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter" Overture, a lush and festive crash-banger if there ever were one, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with Indian Hill student concerto competition winner Anshuman Das, and Gustav Mahler's towering D major Symphony No. 1, the "Titan".
Mahler's symphonies, once regarded as nearly incomprehensible and overbearing, have become listener favorites, drawing large audiences whenever an organization has the courage to present them. And courage it takes; the Symphony No. 1, like his others, is almost frighteningly difficult, not only in the individual parts but also in the remarkable transparence of the orchestration. Every part, every solo stands out, and just about any slip is likely to be noticed. The great dynamic range, the variety of moods and textures and the multitude of instrumental colors can wring the last ounce of musicianship from an orchestra.
If anyone in the audience feared the outcome, the Indian Hill players did not; they climbed every peak, descended every abyss and rose again with brilliance and determination to realize Mahler's intents. The hushed beginning, the awakening off-stage trumpet calls foretold the excitement to follow -- horn fanfares, the rollicking Scherzo, the third movement's faintly mocking, yet tender funeral march, and the cataclysmic, ultimately triumphant finale. Every section contributed its full voice -- lyrical string work in all movements (those take-charge violas in the finale!), sparkling woodwinds with the piccolo at their apex, outstanding brass playing along with seven "bells-up" horns near the end, and the curtain of percussion thunder that brought the work to a close.
Among too many players to recognize, one must begin with conductor Bruce Hangen himself, who sculpted those wonderful, scooped phrases in the second and third movements and managed every tempo and dynamic change, no matter how abrupt. Also to be mentioned are Kevin Ann Green, principal bassist who intoned the minor-key "Frère Jacques" theme of the funeral march in an uncharacteristic role, Alice Hallstrom's superb violin solo passages, and the indispensably distinctive harp timbres from Deborah Feld-Fabisiewicz.
Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" brought Anshuman Das's second appearance with the orchestra as an Indian Hill competition winner; two years ago he played the opening movement from Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto. His talent has certainly not shrunk; he attacked the keyboard with authority, plumbed the extremes of register and relished Gershwin's dance-like rhythms with veteran skill -- no small accomplishment for someone so young. He and the orchestra shared a standing ovation.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter" Overture is everything one might expect from a romantic master of orchestration -- dazzling instrumental color, dashing tempos, deliciously rendered phrasing, a beautiful trombone chant by Alexei Doohovskoy, and a rousing, celebratory finish. In the orchestra's enthusiastic manner, it could make a solid finale in any other context. But this time, Mahler ruled the day.
Orchestral, Solo Brilliance
Reign at Indian Hill Concert
March 16, 2014
Ask any audience member about the Sunday (March 16) concert by the Orchestra of Indian Hill at the Littleton Performing Arts Center, and the conclusion would likely be shared by all: There was simply no better place to be.
Artistic Director Bruce Hangen had assembled a program of three works with a supposedly "romantic" theme, although only one, Hector Berlioz's "Roman Carnival" overture, dates from the Romantic era. Of the two other, 20th-century works, Serge Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" ballet music evokes Shakespearean romance and
Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto is perhaps romantic only in retrospect.
The real unifying factor in this program was the truly high level of performance delivered by both orchestra and the afternoon's soloist, cellist Hai-Ye Ni. Replacing an indisposed Denise Djokic, Hai-Ye Ni brought an impeccable list of credentials as principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, a string of awards and solo and ensemble performances all over the world. On Sunday, she was worthy of every one of them.
Elgar's Cello Concerto is often compared with Dvorak's, mostly because of their rather symphonic proportions and because they were the last "big" concertos for the instrument. But whereas Dvorak's is full of rich, ripely romantic melodies and harmonies and a long series of climactic peaks and valleys in its finale, Elgar is more restrained in his romanticism, preferring an introspective, almost meditative expression, albeit always tender. There are flashes of brilliance, too, requiring agility and a virtuosic command, especially in the second movement's dashing Allegro.
Hai-Ye Ni was in command throughout, in all contexts, all registers and all dynamic levels, making the recitative-like passages a sort of soliloquy and bringing an almost nonchalant lightness to the scherzo. With the watchful and secure coordination between Ms. Ni and Bruce Hangen and the orchestra, Sunday's performance was as definitive a performance of this concerto as one could wish.
Serge Prokofiev was possibly the most original and innovative composers of the 20th century. His music cannot be confused with any other, and vice versa. In live performance, his ballet music for "Romeo and Juliet" is as riveting and far-ranging as any symphonic or dramatic work. It has extremes of mood from the tenderness of love to tragedy of the lovers' deaths, of texture from Melissa Mielens's ethereal flute lines (Juliet's dance) to the shattering chords of Tybalt's death. Every section of the orchestra responded in full voice -- the horns screaming in anguish at the top of their register, the low brass and strings exuding raw strength and power, the Aubade's light-hearted banter among the winds and Alice Hallstrom's acrobatic violin obligato.
None of this superior music-making came as a surprise after the opening "Roman Carnival" overture of Berlioz, the beautiful aria on the English horn followed by a devilishly fast perpetuum mobile full of rapid-fire entrances, tricky off-beat rhythms and brilliant orchestral color. It dazzled in the orchestra's and conductor Hangen's firm grip -- just as Berlioz intended.
Orchestra of Indian Hill's
Playing Ranks With the Top
January 26, 2014
Most orchestra concert programs are anchored by one or two major symphonic works, so when one saw that the Sunday (January 26) program by the Orchestra of Indian Hill at the Littleton Performing Arts Center contained four works by Rossini, Schubert, Emmanuel Séjourné and Dvorak, one might have been tempted to ask, "Where is the center of gravity?"
It is true, although the Rossiini overture, a symphony by the 19-year-old Franz Schubert, Séjourné's two-movement Concerto for Marimba and Strings and a suite based on Czech folk dances by Dvorak are all finely composed and highly entertaining, that there is no "Mighty Fifth" among them.
So where was the gravity? It was, undeniably, where it belonged: in the performances by the musicians of the Orchestra of Indian Hill, marimba soloist Brandon Ilaw, and conductor Bruce Hangen. On Sunday, they could have sat (and stood) as equals of almost any of the world's major orchestras. Yes, they were that good.
One could think of Rossini's overture to "The Barber of Seville" as a relative trifle, but it is nonetheless demanding instrumentally and highly transparent. On Sunday, it glistened like fine crystal as the violins almost literally leapt on every entrance and every note and the lower strings bit into responding passages with confidence and vigor. One watched as the wind players sculpted lines with their body language as well as resonant phrasing. If Rossini enjoyed such light-hearted and energetic playing for his many operas, it's no wonder he was able to retire rich at age 37.
Schubert's C minor Symphony No. 4, the "Tragic," has not the maturity of the later "Great" C major, but it is no trifle, either. It is said that Brahms weaved together the sections of his movements while Schubert sewed his, but the irrepressible dynamism and the melodic and harmonic beauty of the 4th win over all objections. Under Bruce Hangen's direction, the orchestra's strings and woodwinds built a romantic dream in the second movement, danced through the scherzo (labeled "minuet") and dashed through the finale with verve and no loss of control.
Emmanuel Séjourné is not as well known as he might or should be, with a large repertoire of solo, chamber, orchestral and choral music, much of it written with both classical and jazz elements for theatrical and film productions. Lyrical passages in the first movement of his Concerto for Marimba and Strings do have a film-score feeling, while the Spanish dance-like rhythms of the second provide a pleasing contrast. It unites marimba and strings in one accessible and pleasing language.
Percussionist Brandon Ilaw's performance was by turns sensitive, brash and brilliant. His four-mallet technique, pioneered decades ago by Gary Burton at the Berklee School (now Berklee College) of Music, was a thing of wonder, flashing over and striking the wooden bars with seemingly unerring accuracy, even as he stretched his arms to reach the extremes of register. His blazing virtuosity in the second movement was quite extraordinary, especially in the realms of traditional classicism, and the standing ovation he received was well merited.
Dvorak's Czech Suite is a fine example of the nationalist movement in music of Europe in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, as composers drew on the rich folk dance and song traditions of their homelands. The orchestra took well to each movement's mood -- tranquil, bucolic, spirited, moving, energetically Slavonic.
Besides Hangen's leadership (he knows how to rehearse), accolades are due to many -- oboist Jennifer Slowik, flutist Jessica Lizak, clarinetist Steven Jackson, bassoonist Sebastian Chavez, hornist Clark Matthews and too many more to list. They and the rest of the orchestra provided all the gravity needed. They were that good.
Demanding Program Appreciated
The Boston Musical Intelligencer
January 28, 2013
Abetted by the singular talents of two excellent soloists, French Horn player Eric Ruske, and tenor Rockland Osgood, The Orchestra of Indian Hill made an excellent showing Sunday at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center in the third outing of its six-concert season with a demanding program of Stravinsky, Mozart, and Britten. As an introduction I am re-posting the introduction to my earlier review of this estimable ensemble:
A treasure of Boston’s Metro West is The Orchestra of Indian Hill, an eye and ear-opening ensemble of some 75 professional instrumentalists, which has been offering a varied and happily top-notch series of concerts to its very loyal supporters and patrons since 1975. The orchestra has prospered under the leadership its present Artistic Director and Conductor Bruce Hangen since 1997, so much so that the ensemble is now regularly heard in very demanding programs that raise the bar for so-called regional orchestra proficiency and virtuosity.
Many of the orchestra’s regular players are seasoned veterans of the Boston freelance pool of instrumentalists who play regularly with the city’s most prestigious choral and orchestral ensembles. Hangen, too, is no stranger to greater Boston audiences, having been Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Pops in over 300 concerts over the past 30 years. He is also Director of Orchestral Activities at Boston Conservatory, and conductor of that school’s orchestra. Mr. Hangen, in short has paid his dues, and it shows quite brilliantly in Littleton, where the Indian Hill Orchestra performs a six-concert symphonic season. Lucky indeed, those classical music lovers of the western suburbs to have an orchestra of such distinction in their nearby environs.
This Sunday, Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for Strings made for a bracing opener, with Mr. Hangen’s clear directing easing some of the difficulties of Stravinsky’s idiomatic yet uncompromisingly demanding writing. The Indian Hill string players were with him all the way in this engaging but somewhat odd composition that occasionally seems obsessed with maneuvering over and under a fixed pitch and tonality, often centered on a minor-second interval. Yet it also can also offer a superb Arioso in its second movement that spins out one of this craggy composer’s most sustained and elegant melodies.
Eric Ruske then came on stage to play Mozart’s delightful Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 4 in E-flat Major, K. 495. It was a fine outing for both Ruske and the Orchestra, with Hangen setting ideal tempi throughout the work, allowing all the subtleties and nuances of this remarkable concerto to focus and coalesce. The bountiful applause at the concerto’s conclusion may have demonstrated the audience’s gratitude to the players for returning to more familiar tonal territory, but certainly also its admiration for Mr. Ruske’s no-nonsense approach to this elegant, and in its irrepressible fourth movement, rollicking music.
Rockland Osgood is one of music’s true treasures, a stylish tenor of very broad repertoire, all of which he invests with thoughtful preparation and invariably elegant voice. His artful singing was the perfect match to Benjamin Britten’s superb 1943 Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, a work that demands depth of emotion, musical high-mindedness, and of course superb technique from all its performers. Britten was a potent musical force in the late 20th-century and he created a large body of work that continually astonishes for its superb craftsmanship and range. The Serenade’s magical combination of the varied timbres of the French Horn, tenor voice, and string orchestra—not forgetting the cannily selected wide-ranging poetry—elevate this music to near the top of this composer’s oeuvre. Hangen, Ruske, and Osgood never failed to remind us of this in their traversal of this very deep music, and the Indian Hill Strings were admirably equal partners.
I admit it was difficult for me to adjust to the switch from the magical Britten Serenade to Mozart’s Olympian Symphony No. 41 in C-major, K. 551, “Jupiter.” Could two compositions be more different from one another? Having said this, though, I found that Hangen and the now full complement of Indian Hill players gave a robust account of this amazing symphony, its final movement’s contrapuntal miracles being especially well realized in this performance.
That the local population is highly appreciative of Indian Hill’s Orchestra was clearly evident. The lengthy program book abounds with ads from local businesses, the professionalism of the management and staff is palpable, and Hangen’s rapport with his audience is obvious by his well-attended pre-concert talks and his post-concert “from-the-stage” Q and A sessions. And, once again the large hall was virtually sold out, packed with thankfully silent and attentive admirers. Bravo!
Orchestra of Indian Hill Concert Looks Back in Music and Poetry
January 28, 2013
The legacies of prior centuries provided the substance of Sunday’s (January 27) concert by the Orchestra of Indian Hill at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center. Artistic director Bruce Hangen chose two works from the heart of Viennese Classicism, Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto and the towering “Jupiter” Symphony No. 41 in C, and two 20th-century works by Stravinsky and Benjamin Britten that owe their musical and poetic inspiration to earlier times.
Not only the music was inspiring; the afternoon’s two soloists, Eric Ruske, French horn, and Rockland Osgood, tenor, demonstrated prodigious talents individually and together, collaborating to give flight to Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. The Serenade sets four poems from the 17th to the 19th centuries telling of approaching night and eternal rest, a Ben Jonson hymn to the goddess Diana, and the centerpiece, an anonymous, gripping 15th-century Dirge foretelling what awaits the deceased. The poems are framed by a prologue and an epilogue for horn alone, played as a natural instrument without valves.
The Serenade is eminently suited to the clear-toned lyric tenor of Rockland Osgood, with finely honed phrasing and secure intonation throughout, in the rollicking Hymn to Diana as well as the purely elegant Nocturne to words by Tennyson. His sliding manner of linking verses in the Dirge was highly if softly dramatic.
Eric Ruske’s horn-playing was an excellent counterpoint to the vocal and string lines – the fanfares and echoes in the Nocturne, the eerie, sustained high-register notes in the Dirge (How does he do that?), the galloping flourishes of the Diana hymn were all admirably done. Add to those the awakening call of the Prologue for the natural horn, with its ringing hunting-horn tone and slightly off-pitch partials, echoed off-stage in the Epilogue’s farewell. The orchestra’s strings sculpted each phrase, built each climax and approached each hushed conclusion with attentive care.
Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E flat, No. 4 in order of publication but not necessarily of composition, has been well known and loved since its first performance by his friend Joseph Leutgeb, who was apparently expert at executing diatonic phrases with a natural horn and hand-muting (i.e., no valves). Eric Ruske’s instrument has no such limitations, and neither does his talent. He and the orchestra created a bright and cheerful partnership, answering and complementing each other with crisply articulated entrances and responses. Ruske’s accurate negotiation of Mozart’s more acrobatic lines and rapidly changing registers was remarkable especially for those with experience with the French horn, and his sustaining and linking of phrases in the Andante were, let us say, breath-taking.
Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for Strings also has its ties to the 18th-century, specifically the Baroque manner of Vivaldi, especially in its three-movement, fast-slow-fast structure and overall organization. Its harmonic language, however, is pure Stravinsky, with its characteristic dissonance and predilection for altered tonalities. It is possibly more fun for composers and players than for listeners, who may wait for delayed, sometimes inadequate resolution. The orchestra gave the outer movements sufficient dash, especially the buzzing Rondo, while the accompanying lines of the intervening Arioso didn’t seem quite to match the lyric melodies. Of course, that was the point – wasn’t it?
Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony put the orchestra and Bruce Hangen in the spotlight with their chance for glory and, judging by the audience reception, glory there was. The “Jupiter” is in many ways a crowning achievement of the Classical era – thematic beauty, supremely executed counterpoint, riveting dynamic changes, fulfilling climaxes. Every concert-goer knows it by heart, yet each listener gives it full attention, awaiting each note, phrase, fugal entrance and section with an anticipation of discovery. The orchestra seemed to sense this and delivered in every aspect – rhythmic clarity, linear tenderness, full and controlled dynamics, and the finale’s multi-themed, contrapuntal complexity that resolves into joyous conclusion. It was the orchestra’s moment, and it was well done.
Two Faces of Tchaikovsky Bring An Ovation at Indian Hill
November 18, 2012
Two poles-apart moods of Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky divided up the Orchestra of Indian Hill’s concert Saturday evening, Nov. 17, conducted by Artistic Director Bruce Hangen at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center – bright and tuneful in the Violin Concerto in D, predominantly somber and despairing in the Symphony No. 6, the “Pathétique.” But there was no mistaking the unanimity and near-jubilation of the ovation that followed Ryu Goto’s solo performance in the concerto, which concluded the program.
The Concerto is consistently positive and upbeat with many singable melodies and instrumental bravura in the outer movements and a lushly romantic Andante. At its introduction, critics were disappointed and considered it a bit shallow because it didn’t match the seriousness and drama of the Beethoven and Brahms concerti. Not until after Tchaikovsky’s death did it gain audience favor, but now it is among the most popular and admired works for the violin.
The combination of rich lyricism and technical challenge might pose difficulties for a lesser soloist, but after hearing Ryu Goto dash off some Paganini variations on an aria by Giovanni Paisiello during the concert prelude, we were certain he wouldn’t miss a note – and he didn’t. His fingers danced over the fingerboard with unerring accuracy and his bowing coordination was flawless. He set a lightning tempo for the finale and dared the orchestra to match it, which the Indian Hill musicians without hesitation. This performance was more than bravura – it was truly vivacissimo, and the audience loved every measure. A complete rendition of the same Paganini variations that Goto offered as an encore was as delicious as frosting and whipped cream.
Goto’s violin, a 1715 Stradivarius known in violin circles as the “Ex-Pierre Rode” and the “Duke of Cambridge,” shared the spotlight. What a marvel of art and craftsmanship it is – fulsome-toned and responsive with hall-filling sound in all registers. Even the high harmonics were stable and pinpoint (no small credit to the violinist). The violin is on permanent loan to Goto by the Japanese non-profit “Yellow Angel” – and there it should stay, each a perfect complement to the other.
Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony in B minor is from an opposite mold, beginning and ending in the low strings and bassoons, moody and forlorn in the first movement and increasingly tragic in the finale, with some musical escapism in between. Recognizable themes include the second from the opening movement, used in a number of films and programs including the 1940s radio soap opera, “Road of Life.” The second movement is a release from the first with a lilting, sort of truncated waltz in 5/4. The third is a total denial of doom with martial bombast and a thundering climax, but it is immediately followed by a monumental sigh of despair that recurs again and again.
Many are tempted to connect its premiere with Tchaikovsky’s death from cholera just over a week later, but carelessness in drinking unboiled water is the more likely reason. Conductor Bruce Hangen and the orchestra were not put off in the slightest by the dark moods, attacking each passage with intensity and purpose, sailing gracefully through the “waltz,” building a cataclysm of ringing brass, agile woodwinds vigorous string-playing and powerful percussion in the strict-rhythm marching Allegro, then giving full voice to the agonizing lament of the finale in its final descent toward extinction. This was no small feat for the orchestra to negotiate such stretches of dynamics and textures, here delicate, there raging. The players rose to each moment, leaving little wanting.
A Rousing Opener of Brahms, Birds and Ravel
October 21, 2012
To describe the season-opening concert Saturday (Oct. 20) of the Orchestra of Indian Hill, a phrase often used by newly elected officeholders comes to mind: “Hit the ground running.” While such intentions are rarely achieved in politics, the words fit perfectly Saturday night’s performance at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center.
Four works by Brahms, Ravel and Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara showed the orchestra under artistic director Bruce Hangen at its seasoned and mature finest. No staid, heavy symphonic program, this – Brahms’s beloved “Academic Festival” Overture, two works by Maurice Ravel, who is never, ever dull, a brilliant pianistic feast by soloist Inesa Gegprifti, and a highly imaginative “concerto” by Rautavaara, straight from nature itself.
Brahms’s overture is an orchestral medley of drinking songs from 19th-century Germany, composed in response to his receipt of an honorary degree from the University of Breslau. Far from the sober and dignified piece the university’s elders probably expected, after 140 years it is still among the most popular works in the orchestral repertoire. The Indian Hill musicians gave it full voice, with gusto and a stein in every hand, even prompting a smattering of premature applause.
Rautavaara’s “Cantus Arcticus”, composed in 1970 on a commission from the University of Oulu, combines a recording, made by the composer himself of birds of the marshes and shores of northern Finland, with standard orchestra. It conveys a feeling of wandering in open spaces, at first hearing choruses of bog birds, then a somber section featuring an altered and lowered song of a shore lark, and finally approaching and departing flocks of migrating swans. It is generally tonal and quiescent, save for the crescendo of the great flock of swans, which dies away at the end. Overall, it well realizes the composer’s intentions and may take its place among familiar orchestral fare.
The two works by Maurice Ravel, his Piano Concerto in G and the second suite from the ballet, “Daphnis et Chloé,” are, in their separate genres, eloquent testimony to Ravel’s genius as composer and orchestrator. The concerto’s three movements are in fast-slow-fast order, brilliant and dashing outer movements surrounding a romantic middle movement of surpassingly lyric, tender, sorrowful and yearning musical memories.
Inesa Gegprifti, the program’s headliner as piano soloist, showed her virtuosity from the opening whip-crack, leading the charge with authority as well as dexterity in the changing rhythms and accents, hushed and passionate in the Adagio and concluding with a flourish in the final Presto. This concerto is a virtuoso work for both soloist and the orchestra, which matched Ms. Gegprifti’s energy with agility in the winds and snappy attacks from the brass. The audience’s extended applause bespoke shared joy.
The three-sectioned Suite No. 2 from the ballet, “Daphnis et Chloé,” opens with a lush tone-painting of a sunrise, followed by a musical dialogue between the two lovers with an extensive – and difficult – flute solo, for which principal flutist Melissa Mielens deserves special admiration. The concluding “Danse générale” is a true bacchanal of increasing and unbridled celebration.
The musical energy and dazzling orchestration by Ravel – a talent equaled perhaps by only one other, his earlier countryman Hector Berlioz – are red meat for a capably prepared ensemble like that of Indian Hill. The full range of strings, the colorful twittering of woodwinds, that almost surreal flute solo, the high-register notes from the French horn, ethereal harp sounds, the booming percussion and the commanding brilliance of the brass could not help but thrill the listeners, who now have every reason to return for more.
Among the many orchestras dotting the greater Boston musical landscape, it’s often easy to overlook groups representing the city’s several universities and conservatories. And that is unfortunate: not only does the repertoire of these ensembles often feature pieces one doesn’t typically encounter on a professional orchestra’s subscription series, but the concerts are, on the whole, very well played and tickets inexpensive.
Boston’s oldest conservatory is the aptly named Boston Conservatory, and the Boston Conservatory Orchestra (BCO) gave its first concert of the season this past Sunday at Sanders Theater. One of the school’s newest faculty members, the timeless Joseph Silverstein, was the soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, while Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra rounded out the program. Bruce Hangen conducted.
Now a remarkably energetic 80, Mr. Silverstein may have lost a bit of his former technical facilities, but his playing is marked by musical sensibilities that come from his many years of experience. On Sunday, he was a nicely understated soloist in this most monumental of concerti, playing along with the first violins during the lengthy orchestral introduction and interludes and drawing his listeners in with a sweet, focused, golden tone. The highlight of his performance surely was the slow second movement, in the hushed, central section of which Mr. Silverstein created a rapt, inward-looking melodic essay that felt both inevitable and improvised.
After intermission came a very strong reading of the Concerto for Orchestra, one that at its best moments—and there were several—rivaled any performance of this piece I’ve heard, live or on record. There once was a day when this piece belonged solely to professionals. On Sunday, in the rather intimate confines of Sanders Theater, this became a Concerto for Orchestra that grabbed you by the shirt collars and took you on a 50-some-minute long thrill ride.
Yes, it was that good, even though there were a couple of transitions in the second and fourth movements that weren’t quite perfectly executed. On the whole, though, this concentrated performance never shied away from Bartók’s virtuosic writing. On the contrary, everyone seemed to embrace it: the strings, in the swirling eddies of notes in the finale; the winds, especially in the interior movements; and the brass, heroically and magnificently, in the outer movements. Indeed, the BCO’s reading was marked by clarity and precision in the many contrapuntal textures, especially the fugal brass entries of the opening movement.
In terms of characterizing the Concerto’s many moods, Mr. Hangen drew a nice sense of mystery from the orchestra in the first movement’s opening that bode well for what came later; the tongue-in-cheek Shostakovich quote in the fourth movement came across with particularly rollicking spirit; and the Concerto’s closing pages were jubilant, triumphant, and majestic all at once. Appropriately, the third movement formed the emotional core of the performance, featuring crystalline textures and some fine woodwind and percussion playing.