Music Review: IU Chamber Orchestra and Neely

IU Chamber Orchestra shines in performance with Neely as conductor

By Peter Jacobi

 

The program was to have featured Prokofiev, Beethoven and Wagner. Puccini was a late addition. His melancholy and exquisite “Crisantemi” (“Chrysanthemums”) was added in memory of Ik-Hwan Bae, the beloved faculty violinist who had been scheduled to conduct the concert but died last summer.

The gesture came from the guest who did conduct Wednesday evening’s Indiana University Chamber Orchestra program in Auer Hall, David Neely, a Jacobs School alum now a seasoned pro who currently serves as music director and principal conductor of the Des Moines Metro Opera and as head of the orchestral conducting program at the University of Kansas.

“Crisantemi” initially was written for string quartet and to mark the death, in 1890, of Duke Amedeo of Savoy. Later it was scored for an orchestra of strings and, on Wednesday, that was the version heard in a performance, both radiant and poignant. Professor Bae, I believe, would have loved it.

Maestro Neely then moved into what he had planned and announced for his visitation: Prokofiev’s Symphony Number 1 (“Classical”), Beethoven’s l814 version of the Overture to “Fidelio,” and Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” a short and yet substantive program. He made the most of his opportunity; the Chamber Orchestra played exceedingly well for him. His movements and signals were crisp and clear, obviously communicating his wishes to the musicians.

Prokofiev’s brief, 15-minute “Classical” Symphony pays homage to a period of composition he came to love as a student and to a favored master of that period, Haydn. Had Haydn lived in the 20th century, Prokofiev reasoned, “He would have retained his own style while absorbing something of the new at the time.” The score, an absolute delight, sparkles and, often, races and dances and frolics. Neely not only captured the charms of old built into the music but, from what one caught via the ears, he must have resolutely drilled the players, so together were they while bouncing and speeding through the extent of the symphony.

The “Fidelio” Overture is much more succinct than the “Leonore” Overtures Beethoven also wrote as, over a decade, he made changes in his one and only opera, but it fittingly features the major themes and sets the mood for the ultimately triumphant nature of the story. Again, Neely cajoled the orchestra to come along, so to capture the music’s urgency.

The music of Wagner reportedly holds a special place in the conductor’s heart. In “Siegfried Idyll,” he had a package considered one of the composer’s most dreamy and exultant creations, built on motifs that found their way into the opera “Siegfried.” Wagner wrote the idyll initially not for public consumption but as a birthday gift to his wife Cosima. Could there be another gift more lovely? Consider being a composition’s inspiration and then to be serenaded by it in one’s home on birthday eve? .

In Wednesday’s reading, the dreams were intact and so, too, the exult. Neely and the Chamber Orchestra delivered a deftly shaped and beautiful-to-hear performance of this idyll, this glorious expression of a husband’s love for his wife. It had focus and featured all the needed passion. The visiting Neely proved to be an effective conductor; he caused the Chamber Orchestra to shine.

 

© Herald Times 2014

 

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Musicians dig deep to learn more about classical masterpiece

By Peter Jacobi

 

When you come to the Musical Arts Center on Wednesday evening for the IU Symphony Orchestra concert, the printed program will tell you that you’ve come to an out-of-the-ordinary event. It comes with a title, “Behind the Score.”

And that is meant to tell you the orchestra has undergone a somewhat altered path from preparation to performance. There has been the usual series of rehearsals, of course, these under guest conductor Grzegorz Nowak. But the training has also included talks and discussions, designed to give the musicians enhanced understanding of what the work they’re playing is all about historically and musically.

Courtesy photoGrzegorz Nowak will be guest conductor at Wedneday's "Behind the Score" concert.

Courtesy photoGrzegorz Nowak will be guest conductor at Wedneday’s “Behind the Score” concert.

The piece they will play and you will hear is Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which last year marked the 100th birthday of its premiere. And according to a gentleman named Richard Taruskin, it is considered by quite a few scholars and others to be the 20th century equivalent of Beethoven’s 19th century Ninth Symphony, an important landmark that heralded change in the future of music.

The eminent Richard Taruskin, Professor Taruskin, headquarters at the University of California, Berkeley, and happens to be a highly regarded musicologist, music historian, and critic with a special interest in Russian music. It is he who lectured the members of the Symphony Orchestra last Monday afternoon, enlightening them on “Rite of Spring’s” 100-year course as ballet score and as concert piece, from a hissed and booed dance premiere in Paris by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes all the way to current recordings, sans dance, that show how conductors have continually redefined musical interpretation of the score.

Earlier, the musicians were treated to a panel discussion involving IU musicologist Gretchen Horlacher and ballet department Chairman Michael Vernon, each treating aspects of the score’s past, Horlacher on what Stravinsky contributed to musical language and Vernon on how updates from the original choreography by Nijinsky have altered perceptions of “Rite” as a ballet.

So, the musicians you’ll be hearing have explored “Behind the Score” aspects of this groundbreaking masterpiece, as planned by the “curator” behind this event. That’s what Jorja Fleezanis calls herself. She thought up the idea and planned it and peopled it, just like a museum curator puts together an exhibit. Fleezanis holds two faculty titles: professor of music (violin) and Henry J. Upper Chair in Orchestral Studies. These cover the artistic skills that she brought with her, mastery of the violin and 20 years as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra. She can teach the instrument, and she can tell students how orchestras function.

“Rite of Spring” is the second composition put under the “Behind the Score” microscope. Last year, it was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, chosen by Curator Fleezanis; Cliff Colnot, principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony’s Civic Orchestra and frequent guest conductor/coach in the Jacobs School, and Thomas Wieligman, administrator of the school’s orchestral ensembles.

That trio chose this year’s candidate, too. Colnot had to bow out because of illness, causing Fleezanis to seek a substitute (He is now on the mend!). A choice proved available: Grzegorz Nowak, artist-in-residence at Florida International University and principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic in London.

“I was here recently to do a master class,” says Nowak, “and was delighted to return when asked to fill this emergency, especially for the Stravinsky. It is a fantastic work that’s had a huge success after the initial scandal. The music is thrilling and shows definite progress from his earlier ballet scores, ‘Firebird’ and ‘Petroushka.’ Just in the way he uses folk music sources and builds this to such a dramatic force: that proves how great a composer Stravinsky was. For me to have the opportunity of taking a new look at an old work is always exciting. I do this with opera and oratorio, and I’m challenged to do it here with ‘Rite of Spring.’”

Jorja Fleezanis expresses love for the “Behind the Score” concept. Her wish is that more such projects could be done. “But for now,” she says, “one a year is probably all we can manage. Think, though, how much background has been given to these musicians. Normally, conductors only have time to instill what the score requires. That’s what the usual rehearsals are about. Here, Michael Vernon first told them how the dance was invented. Gretchen Horlacher talked about rhythm and meter, so central to Stravinsky and his music. And then Richard Taruskin came in to introduce the people who were behind the score and to trace ‘Rite’s’ passage through the century.

“Consequently, the players are armed with more and significant information,” Fleezanis continues. “The conductor has all this other ammunition as he seeks to help the players interpret the music through their own minds and then to work with Maestro Nowak on how the music should sound on Wednesday night. I’m truly invested in this approach to performance.”

 

 

Fleezanis plans to introduce the “Behind the Score” concept to the audience and, then, to show “a seven- or eight-minute video, a collage of what went into this event, so you can sense the spirit and color of what this sort of learning is about. Maestro Nowak may also have something to say. The performance follows. I hope you and the rest of the audience will be happy with the results.”

I hope to be.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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Adam Bodony ’11 to succeed Susan Kitterman ’75 as Artistic Director of the New World Youth Orchestras

 

adamSusan Kitterman ’75, Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Youth Orchestras in Indianapolis, will pass artistic control of the young musician’s organization that she founded in 1982 effective May 2015 to Adam Bodony (MM ’11), a conductor-trombonist that was once a member of the organization and is currently their Executive Director.  Adam is also currently Artistic Director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra and Associate Conductor of the Missouri Symphony Orchestra.

Susan Kitterman, trained violist at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, founded NWYO in 1982 with 18 young musicians after having successfully started several string programs in Chicago, IL public school system.  The organization now consists of 190 young musicians from all over the state of Indiana and has three orchestras under its umbrella.

Mor einformation Here:  http://jayharveyupstage.blogspot.com/2014/06/pre-eminent-orchestral-training-ground.html

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Alumnus Nicholas Hersh (MM ’12) named assistant conductor for Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Hersh-BioThe Baltimore Symphony Orchestra recently appointed Nicholas Hersh as its new Assistant Conductor. His tenure begins in September 2014. Previously, Nicholas served as Music Director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra in Indiana, and Assistant Conductor with the National Repertory Orchestra in Colorado.

Nicholas grew up in Evanston, Illinois and started his musical training with the cello. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Stanford University and a Master’s Degree in Conducting from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, studying with David Effron and Arthur Fagen.

Read more here: http://www.bsomusic.org/about/press/press-release/2014-press-releases/baltimore-symphony-orchestra-announces-several-new-conducting-appointments.aspx

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Idea for summer program becomes annual treat

By Peter Jacobi

 

If you look at the printed program for this afternoon’s Summer Music concert in Auer Hall, top billing and the largest type go to the Festival Chamber Players, and there’s quite a lineup of them that will perform. But right under “Festival Chamber Players” you’ll find “Summer String Academy 30th Anniversary Concert.” And therein resides the glory of the story.

Indiana University | Courtesy photoSummer String Academy Director Mimi Zweig proposed the idea of the program for young string players 31 years ago. Today, the 30th anniversary concert of the Summer String Academy will be performed at 4 p.m. in Auer Hall.

Indiana University | Courtesy photoSummer String Academy Director Mimi Zweig proposed the idea of the program for young string players 31 years ago. Today, the 30th anniversary concert of the Summer String Academy will be performed at 4 p.m. in Auer Hall.

Actually, it was 31 years ago that a young violin teacher went to the office of then IU School of Music Dean Charles Webb “with a plan in hand. I wanted to tell my boss about an idea,” recalls Mimi Zweig, “and that was to offer a summer program for young string players with lots of practice in chamber music. I was all set to argue my case for half an hour, even an hour. Five minutes in, Dean Webb cut me short. He asked, ‘How much would it cost the school?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ He said, ‘OK. Go ahead.’ By the next summer, we were underway.”

So 30 summers ago, a host of young string players arrived on the IU Bloomington campus for training, the first batch of all who were to follow, a hundred or so per year, 128 this year. Among them that first summer was violinist Erin Aldridge, currently on the music faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a member for the past six years of the Summer String Academy faculty.

Aldridge will be on the program this afternoon along with all faculty members to play Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, this as a concert closer. Earlier, she’ll offer the Sonata No. 2 of Charles Ives and Four Souvenirs of Paul Schoenfeld. “And we’ve commissioned three short pieces for the event from colleagues on the Jacobs School faculty,” says the always ebullient Zweig, “a String Trio by the Academy’s loyal friend Atar Arad, Don Freund’s ‘Rugged Reflections from Hearing in 3V for Three Violins,’ and Sven-David Sandstrom’s ‘Short Piece’ for Two Violins and Viola. Three premieres, it’s all quite exciting.”

Zweig has been at IU for 39 years. “I’m 64,” she says, “and some friends ask if I’m going to retire soon. The idea flits through my mind. But Atar tells me, ‘Are you out of your mind? After two days, you’ll wonder what to do with yourself.’ And that’s true. Unless something big, something national, something very special comes along to tempt me, I’m not likely to move. I love what I do. This work is not like work. We have all these wonderfully talented students coming here, not only in summer but throughout the year in our Pre-College program. During the Summer Academy, for 10 days, we run a Teachers Retreat. For it, we bring gifted professionals from private studios and universities, along with performers who want to teach. It’s like a second Academy. We offer them a rich program in tandem with that for our youngsters. Through them, the work we do here is applied elsewhere. And that, too, is a thrill that continues to motivate me.

“Hey, I’m not lacking in energy. By the luck of the draw, I’m healthy,” Zweig continues. “I’ve been on the east coast. I’ve been on the west coast. This is home. I’m with colleagues who are passionate about kids and music. We love being together. There’s a synergy at work. When I teach at the Salzburg Mozarteum and tell them how, here in Bloomington, we all work together, they’re taken aback and just don’t think it’s possible. But we give everyone space to do their thing and be creative, and the best continues to happen.”

Sarah Kapustin, first violinist of the Rubens Quartet, in residence here this summer, has experienced the results from two angles: first, from age nine to 16 as a student in the Academy, then, in recent years, as member of the faculty. “That first summer, as a kid, I was overwhelmed by all the concerts I heard and by the classes. They made me want to practice, not just play. I wanted to play all the cool pieces the older kids played. I became enamored with music. This was the turning point that made me want to go for it. I studied with Mimi for six years. She’s an all-around wonderful teacher, a pedagogue who taught me how to get the most out of my instrument. She also insisted I learn the viola and, of course, to play chamber music. I was member of the Violin Virtuosi. We toured, and that taught me much, just the opportunity, for instance, to repeat something like the Chausson ‘Poeme’ nine times at nine concerts. One really gets better artistically doing that.

“Now, I’m on the other side of things,” says Kapustin, “a colleague of those who were my former teachers. And we’re all here to serve children. I love to teach and do so at the conservatory back in Holland. But these kids, who come from all over the nation and the world, are so talented. The level is so high. It’s quite remarkable.”

Seventeen-year-old Zoie Hightower is a current attendee of the Academy; her mother, Christina, is the Academy’s longtime assistant director. “All my life, she’d have me tag along. For nine years, I’ve been an official student,” Zoie explains. “I’ve trained on the violin and viola. In chamber music, I tend to play the viola. During the school year, and she’s been home schooled, “I play with the Virtuosi. For five years I’ve done that. It’s through music I’ve met all my best friends. To be surrounded by such a rich environment, with all of us so focused on music, it’s wonderful. In the Academy, we listen together, practice together, go to master classes together. From all over the world, we come together to make music.

“And the teachers are here for me, for all of us, of course, but for me. They want the best for me. Those four weeks of summer,” says Zoie, “make my favorite month. I count down to its start. It’s like my Christmas.”

Who knows about the future of the cherubs who will be at this afternoon’s 30th Anniversary Concert? Not all who’ve come in the past decided on a musical profession, says Mimi Zweig. But those from past summers now perform in major symphony orchestras (New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, National Symphony, the orchestras of Chicago, Milwaukee, Rochester, St. Louis, Omaha, Dallas, Calgary, the Danish Ballet, and numerous others). They hold important positions as teachers (Oberlin, Alabama, Oklahoma, North Carolina–Greensboro, San Juan and elsewhere). They have private studios. They perform as soloists and in chamber groups.

“It couldn’t have been done without colleagues,” says Mimi Zweig. “It couldn’t have been done without the support of Indiana University and the Jacobs School. But we’ve done it, and I am happy.”

Contact Peter Jacobi at pjacobi@heraldt.com.

If you go

WHAT and WHO: The 30th anniversary concert of the Summer String Academy features the Festival Chamber Players and other members of the Academy faculty in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, works of Charles Ives and Paul Schoenfeld, and three premieres of works commissioned by the Academy from Jacobs School composers Atar Arad, Don Freund and Sven-David Sandstrom.

WHEN: This afternoon at 4.

WHERE: Auer Hall on the IU Bloomington campus.

ADMISSION: Free.

Show times

• This evening at 6:30 in Bryan Park, the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra offers its annual Summer Concert, which includes Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” a movement from Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” “Mars” from Holst’s “The Planets,” a Sousa waltz, an Armed Forces Salute, the “Game of Thrones” Theme, an arrangement by conductor Nicholas Hersh of tunes from Earth, Wind and Fire, a polka of Strauss, the Tchaikovsky “1812 Overture,” and Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” during which Hersh will hand the baton to the new artistic director of the orchestra, Adam Bodony. Free.

• This evening at 8 in Auer Hall, the Summer Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Betsy Burleigh, gives a repeat performance of Mozart’s Requiem, in a surround of Gregorian Chants, readings and other works of Mozart. Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for students.

• Monday evening at 8 in Auer, the resident Pacifica Quartet performs string quartets of Shostakovich (No. 2 in A Major and No. 9 in E-flat Major) and Schnittke (No. 3). Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for students.

• Tuesday evening at 8 in Auer, the young and already honored Wasmuth Quartet performs music of Mendelssohn (Quartet No. 6 in F Minor), Visconti (“Ramshackle Songs”) and Ravel (Quartet in F Major). Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for students.

• Wednesday evening at 7 on the Musical Arts Center Lawn, the IU Summer Concert Band plays under David Woodley. Susan Rider is trumpet soloist. Free.

• Thursday afternoon at 5 in Musical Arts Center 301, Patricia Stiles directs a Summer Opera workshop consisting of operatic scenes. Free.

• Thursday afternoon at 5:30 in Bear’s Place, the Summer Jazz Ensemble, directed by Brent Wallarab, offers a program of favorites. A cash-only cover charge will be collected at the door: $6 for adults; $5 for students.

• Friday evening at 6 in Auer, the Summer String Academy presents its Final Concert, with repertoire to be announced. Free.

• Friday evening at 7 in the John Whikehart Auditorium of the John Waldron Arts Center. 122 South Walnut, come to an “Furioso: An Evening of Handel Opera,” presented by Gamma Ut, an IU Early Music student organization, and operamission, a New York City based opera organization founded by Jacobs School alum Jennifer Peterson. The vocal program, to be supported by an orchestra performing on historical instruments, will include arias and ensembles. Free.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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Music Review: Festival Chamber Players

Festival Chamber Players’ opener is mesmerizing

By Peter Jacobi

 

Sonatas of Prokofiev and Brahms and a Smetana piano trio introduced summer 2014’s first contingent of Festival Chamber Players in Auer Hall on Friday evening. What one heard suggested a promising few weeks ahead.

The 1949 Prokofiev Sonata in C Major, Opus 119, featured a new-to-us cellist, a fine one, Amir Eldan, who later in the evening added his musicianship to a sizzling performance of Bedrich Smetana’s Trio in G Minor.  In the Prokofiev, with its doleful opening Andante grave, its cheerful follow-up movements, and its abundant lyricism, Eldan drew soulful resonance from his instrument; the sounds produced were a pleasure to come upon.  His collaborator at the piano was the always excellent Chih-Yi Chen, a Jacobs School specialist in accompaniment who appears never to falter as musical partner.

Chen returned to the stage with violinist Erin Aldridge for a lush and often fevered reading of Brahms’ Sonata Number 3 in D Minor, a work that breathes Romanticism and featured that on Friday, thanks to the full commitment of both artists.

Cellist Eldan was joined by two excellent musicians from South Korea, violinist Wonji Kim and pianist Wonmin Kim, for a heated performance of Smetana’s only Piano Trio, written when he was a young man of 31 and just after his 4-year-old daughter died from scarlet fever. The score expresses devotion and despair, troubled memory and a frantic search for emotional equilibrium, the last hinted at by a calmed flourish at the trio’s end. One could not have asked for more involvement than Eldan and the Kims poured into their reading; it was intense and yet honest, never overdone but mesmerizing.

 

© Herald Times 2014

 

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MUSIC REVIEW: Summer Philharmonic

Informal fun concert earns standing ovation

By Peter Jacobi

 

Even the trappings differed from the usual orchestral concert in the Musical Arts Center on Saturday evening.

The musicians in the Summer Philharmonic, instead of appearing in formal wear, were dressed informally: black pants and white tops for the violinists, black pants and tops of various colors for the rest. Their maestro, David Effron, left his tails at home and entered the stage in black pants of his own, along with a shirt of scarlet red.

The stage lights were customarily bright for the pre-intermission fare: an overture, Leonard Bernstein’s to his opera “Candide,” and a symphony, Beethoven’s best known and most popular, his Fifth. But after intermission, the lights changed from white to various hues and wattages, distinctly different from the norm. The configuration of chairs changed as well, to make room up front and near front for a drum set and a Steinway.

At that point, the musical content shifted dramatically into pop mode, and by concert’s end, the audience that filled the theater, knew it had witnessed a very special program. Attendees knew and had rewarded all the participants with generous ovations, cheers aplenty, and a standing ovation that seemed to have no end: all deserved.

Maestro Effron, upon accepting the assignment to plan, prepare and produce this single orchestral event of the 2014 Summer Festival, decided to go for broke, to accept no barriers of custom, so to attract a large and diverse crowd. Informality, he determined, had to be the delivered mood. Variety, he also determined, had to be the delivered content. So, piece by piece, he shaped the evening.

First, that opening half: Bernstein’s scintillating “Candide” Overture, played to the hilt, then that marvel of a symphony, the Fifth, in a seriously considered and eloquently performed reading. Conductor Effron had only two weeks to get this Summer Philharmonic ready, and that he really, truly did. Theirs was an evocative Fifth.

Next came Leroy Anderson’s romp for three trumpets and orchestra, “Bugler’s Holiday,” crisply enunciated by one Indiana University Jacobs School teacher, John Rommel, and two Jacobs School students, Leah Hodge and Evan King. Composer Anderson would have been well pleased.

The striking and classy mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, another Jacobs faculty favorite, sang, crooned, whispered, poured forth cherished American Song Book standards: Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Harold Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Get Happy.” For an encore, she added a song Louis Armstrong made famous, “What a Wonderful World.” Simpson made the world sound wonderful, assisted at the piano by her visiting sister, Evelyn Simpson-Curenton.

Two recent IU alums, ballet major Morgan Stillman and biology major Cassie Dishman, joined the orchestra as tap dancers, very skilled ones, indeed, giving movement to the Rondo from Morton Gould’s “Tap Dance Concerto” (yes, there is one!) and to Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Former IU and NBA basketball star Quinn Buckner genially narrated the American folk tale “Casey at the Bat,” in collaboration with Effron and the Philharmonic, engaged in composer Frank Proto’s clever and aurally convincing orchestral setting for the poem. Buckner’s microphone proved inconsiderate, clicking on and off, and there were some balance problems between orchestra and speaker, but Buckner added the right comic touch to this 1888 poetic ballad by Ernest Thayer that has become a literary staple for fans of baseball lore.

Saturday’s concert ended with Tchaikovsky’s “The Year 1812 Festival Overture,” now usually called the “1812 Overture,” that grandiose feast of orchestral glory, bells, chimes and boom-booms which Effron and the Philharmonic performed with tremendous gusto, accompanied by light show and sundry electronics.

The Philharmonic worked hard all evening, as did David Effron who, should he wish to change careers, could become a touring comic. His jokes and banter had the crowd roaring, and one noted that he appeared to be having a great time. Go for it, Maestro!

 

©Herald Times 2014

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Music review: Rubens Quartet

Quartet covers the centuries in concert

By Peter Jacobi

 

Products from three centuries filled Wednesday evening’s Rubens Quartet program in Auer Hall, the first of three local appearances by this fine ensemble, visiting from the Netherlands.

One heard 18th century Mozart, the Quartet in F Major, K.590, to open the concert, Brahms 19th century B-Flat Major Quartet, Opus 57, to end it, and — in between — Leos Janacek’s 20th century Quartet Number 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” Not only did the musical fare stretch across time, but it gave the performers a wide range of material to contend with, which they did masterfully.

The Mozart K. 590 was the composer’s last quartet, and it is a wonder of shifting moods and musical developments that not only express his classical era but that looked forward into the beyond. In the opening Allegro moderato, one seems to listen in as the four musicians converse, almost as if informally. In the Andante that follows, the music turns into meditation; is it about life already lived or about the mystery of what’s to come? The Menuetto supplies juicy ornamental passages to flood the ears. The closing Allegro is frolicsome and flashy, abundantly supplied with all manner of enticements for the listener and challenges for the players.

At intermission, Maestro Thomas Baldner, so long the honored teacher of conducting at IU’s Jacobs School, came breathlessly to my seat, super excited about the music and wondering out loud: “What more might Mozart have done if he had 10 added years to live?” Indeed. But, thank goodness for what this miracle of a creative artist left us, such as the amazing K. 590, performed by the Rubens — whenever called for — with inviting intimacy, with joyous exhilaration, with introspection, and, throughout, with to-be-envied technical assurance.

What a shift came from the Mozart to the Janacek Quartet No. 1, which retells the story in expressive musical form of a Leo Tolstoy tale about two men having a conversation on a train during which one tells the other he has murdered his adulterous wife and her lover. The music, sometimes lyrical and at other times savage, potently reflects the story’s highly charged content. The Rubens foursome (violinists Sarah Kapustin and Tali Goldberg, violist Roeland Jagers and cellist Joachim Eijlander) infused the music with great passion and yet also, one felt, with just as great care, so that Janacek’s fevered vision came full force to the fore.

Brahms’ B-Flat Major Quartet is more light-hearted than much of his chamber music; he insisted it was his favorite of the three quartets he wrote. One hears very danceable moments in the score, along with a string of inviting opportunities for the musicians to entertain their listeners. And take the opportunities the Rubens Quartet surely did, to the full.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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Rubens Quartet, Summer Philharmonic take the stage this week

Indiana University | Courtesy photoOn Friday, the IU Jacobs School of Music announced that basketball great Quinn Buckner will narrate “Casey at the Bat,” one of the pieces to be performed by the Summer Festival Orchestra.

Indiana University | Courtesy photoOn Friday, the IU Jacobs School of Music announced that basketball great Quinn Buckner will narrate “Casey at the Bat,” one of the pieces to be performed by the Summer Festival Orchestra.

A visiting string quartet and the season’s one full-scale, honest-to-goodness orchestral concert are among this week’s highlights of Summer Music, the Indiana University Jacobs School’s always awaited annual burst of musical events, enriching our June and July.

The highly regarded, Netherlands-based Rubens String Quartet opens a welcomed return engagement in Auer Hall Wednesday evening, and the Summer Philharmonic, led by the popular David Effron, lights the Musical Arts Center on Saturday with a most-unusual and fun-filled lineup of goodies

The Rubens

The Rubens’ visit contains three events, two alone and one with the Festival Chamber Players. The “why” for its being here is first violinist Sarah Kapustin who, though she now lives in the Netherlands, has a long life connection with Bloomington, one of the places, she says, she’s “proud to call home.”

I’ll call her Sarah, having followed her career for a whole lot of years. “I first came in the summer of 1991, as a 9-year-old,” she explains, “to study at the Summer String Academy. I moved to Bloomington for my last year of high school and then enrolled as a student in IU’s School of Music, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 2002 and an artist diploma in 2003. Since I graduated, I’ve been back several times as a performer in the Summer Music Festival and also as a teacher in the String Academy and as a sabbatical replacement for my most important and influential teachers, Mimi Zweig and Mauricio Fuks. My mother also lives in Bloomington. She’s married to trumpet professor Edmund Cord, so it’s wonderful for me to combine business with pleasure.”

This will be the Rubens’ third visit to Bloomington. “I moved to the Netherlands in 2008,” says Sarah, “to join the quartet. That decision has changed my life both professionally and personally. Professionally, I’m able to immerse myself in the vast, rich quartet repertoire. Personally, my colleagues are all wonderful musicians and people, and I happen to be married to one of them [violist Roeland Jagers]. We are all thrilled to be back.”

The quartet brings a wide range of repertoire, starting with Mozart, Janacek and Brahms for this week’s concert.

“We’re presenting the last quartets of both Mozart and Brahms and the first of Janacek. The Mozart is an absolute marvel: humor, wit, simplicity and complexity all in one. The Brahms is atypically light in texture, sounding sometimes almost classical, with a heartbreaking slow movement. The Janacek is a thrilling programmatic work based on the short story by Tolstoy titled ‘The Kreutzer Sonata,’ where a man confesses to his neighbor on the train that he murdered his adulterous wife and her lover.”

The second concert (June 29) features “Langsam Satz” of Anton Webern, Beethoven’s monumental Opus 132 Quartet, a quartet by 20th century Turkish composer Ulvi Cemal Erkin, and a selection of folk songs from Eastern Europe. On the program with the Festival Chamber Players (July 3), the Rubens plays the Debussy String Quartet and three of its members join pianist Cory Smythe in the Brahms Opus 60 Piano Quartet, much to look forward to.

Indiana University | Courtesy photoDavid Effron will conduct the Summer Festival orchestra on Saturday at the Musical Arts Center.

Indiana University | Courtesy photoDavid Effron will conduct the Summer Festival orchestra on Saturday at the Musical Arts Center.

Summer Philharmonic

Conductor David Effron gets to spend two weeks, “rehearsing two-and-one-half hours every day,” with the Summer Philharmonic, an orchestra assembled from enrolled students for only that length of time, a dramatic departure from previous summers, based on a shift of academic emphasis in the Jacobs School’s summer curriculum.

I’ll miss the concerts we now won’t have, but Saturday’s entices, blending the classics with Americana, a folk tale in words and music, a collection of songs, a couple of dancers, and a laser and light show, no less.

“I’m excited about the program,” says Maestro Effron, “and I hope it attracts a big audience. It has all the elements to do so. I’d like to see not only our loyal classical devotees come, but folks who usually don’t to make it to the Musical Arts Center for orchestral concerts to make an effort to attend this one, a concert I think they’ll really enjoy.”

As we talk, Effron emphasizes each element of Saturday’s “extravaganza,” which is how he defines it.

“We’ve got Leonard Bernstein’s wonderful Overture to ‘Candide’ to open the concert, a favorite, I think. Then, we’ll play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, arguably the most popular of them all.

“After intermission,” the conductor continues, “we offer a tour de force for three trumpeters, Leroy Anderson’s ‘Bugler’s Holiday,’ followed by another favorite of mine, Frank Proto’s ‘Casey at the Bat,’ that delightful folk tale done up for narrator and orchestra, a lot of fun.”

Mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson sings three songs from Broadway musicals. Then, would you believe, ballet major Morgan Stillman and IU alumna Cassie Dishman join the maestro and the orchestra as tap dancers in the Rondo from Morton Gould’s “Tap Dance Concerto,” along with Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (if It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

Not enough for you? Well, says Effron, “how about Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture,’ which will come with the necessary canon booms and a lasers and light show? We’re topping everything off with that. I can’t wait. It’s going to be a great show, I think.”

The affable and gifted Effron has been in semi-retirement for a year or so, and the rest of his summer is without assignments. But he’s been round and about the school, handling now-and-then concerts. “And since Arthur [Fagen] is going on leave, and there’s no one to take over the needs of the conducting department, I’ve offered to do that in my colleague’s absence. So, I’ll be very busy. But after that, yes, I’m going to slow down and do retirement seriously.”

Right now, though, look for him to be very active on the MAC podium Saturday.

Contact Peter Jacobi at pjacobi@heraldt.com.

If you go

To the Rubens Quartet: The Netherlands-based string ensemble (violinists Sarah Kapustin and Tali Goldberg, violist Roeland Jagers and cellist Joachim Eijlander) performs music of Mozart (Quartet in F Major, K.590), Janacek (Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata”), and Brahms (Quartet in B-Flat Major, Opus 67) Wednesday evening at 8 in Auer Hall. Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for students.

To the Summer Philharmonic: The orchestra, conducted by David Effron, features music of Bernstein (Overture to “Candide”), Beethoven (Symphony No. 5), Anderson (“Bugler’s Holiday”), Proto (“Casey at the Bat”), songs from Broadway musicals (sung by Marietta Simpson), Gould (part of “Tap Dance Concerto,” with Morgan Stillman and Cassie Dishman), Ellington (“It Don’t Mean a Thing”) and Tchaikovsky (“The Year 1812 Festival Overture”). Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for students.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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Music Review: Spring Festival of Bands

Three bands spring festival of ‘Mostly Bernstein’ was total success

By Peter Jacobi

 

The title given to this annual concert in April is awkward: “A Spring Festival of Winds, Brass and Percussion.” But there’s nothing awkward about what an attendee hears at these events, which happens to be an awful lot of good band music.

That certainly was the case Thursday evening when the IU Jacobs School’s three concert bands, one after the other, took to the stage of the Musical Arts Center for a “Mostly Bernstein” Festival, their way of saying “So long” to the about-to-end 2013-14 season of band concerts.

The “mostly” meant room was left for a couple of other composers, Frank Zappa and Roberto Molinelli, but Thursday was an evening designed to celebrate the compositions of Leonard Bernstein, for this occasion all transposed or arranged for band.

The Concert Band performed first, and under two conductors. David Woodley, whose regular assignment is the Marching Hundred and other IU athletic bands, stepped upon the podium to conduct Bernstein’s “A Musical Toast,” an exuberant fanfare honoring a Bernstein friend, conductor Andre Kostelanetz. The Concert Band’s regular leader, Eric Smedley, then took over for a commendably tidy and thoroughly compelling performance of the “Candide” Suite, consisting of five key numbers from that hard-to-define opera/musical/operetta/show.

Jeffrey Gershman’s Symphonic Band followed. Only brass and percussion were on stage first for Bernstein’s “Shivaree,” another festive fanfare, this one written for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art at centenary time in 1969. With the whole crew assembled, Maestro Gershman turned to Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town,” congenial music from a Bernstein Broadway show that extolled New York City, youth, and the dance. The “episodes” were very well played, as was Frank Zappa’s “G-Spot Tornado,” an item of unabashed good humor and striking thematic escapades, to which Gershman and the band gave a vibrant salute.

The Wind Ensemble, led by Stephen Pratt, focused on more Bernstein: the tense and sometimes savage Suite from “On the Waterfront,” Bernstein’s only film score, a brilliant one for a brilliant Elia Kazan film, and — to close — an irreverent, circus-reminiscent, charmingly brash “Slava!,” written for the opening concert in 1977 of Mstislav Rostropovich’s first season as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. The delightful tribute was delightfully played.

As was, a bit earlier, “Four Pictures from New York for Solo Saxophone and Wind Band,” a love letter to New York City by the Italian composer Roberto Molinelli.

The soloist was Otis Murphy of the Jacobs School faculty who brought with him to stage front three saxophones — soprano, alto, and tenor — switching from one to another as called for in the score: the soprano sax for “Dreamy Dawn,” melodically suggestive of the city early on a new day; the alto for “Tango Club” and its heated tango rhythms; the tenor for “Sentimental Evening,” an exercise in smooth, lyrical jazz, and the alto sax once more for “Broadway Night,” an ultra-Presto recognition of the so-called “city that never sleeps.”

Murphy was spectacular performing what amounted to a full-scale saxophone concerto, one which calls for every technical and musical skill that could be asked of a saxophonist, all of which he supplied generously. A bravo also for pianist Benjamin Watkins who engaged in cool musical dialogue with Murphy during “Sentimental Evening.” And to Maestro Pratt and the Wind Ensemble for helping to introduce Molinelli’s refreshing work to us.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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