David Neely scores high marks with University Orchestra

Guest conductor Neely scores high marks again with University Orchestra

By Peter Jacobi


It’s been a quick turn-around for guest conductor David Neely. In mid-October, he was here to lead the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra in a splendid concert featuring works of Beethoven, Wagner and Prokofiev. He was back Wednesday night, this time to conduct the University Orchestra, and he scored high marks again.

We’re getting quite a few guest conductors these days, undoubtedly to locate the right person to fill the gap that David Effron’s retirement is creating. I say “is creating” because Maestro Effron, fortunate for us, is saying a long goodbye, still doing his share of local conducting, even while he has been shedding his other faculty duties. When hired, he had both operatic and symphonic credentials, pretty much a necessity for a faculty conductor in the Jacobs School. He also had taught at the Curtis Institute and Eastman School of Music.

David Neely, too, appears to have solid experience in both performance areas, and he has taught. Currently, he serves as director of orchestral activities at the University of Kansas and as music director and principal conductor of the Des Moines Metro Opera. One hasn’t seen what he can do with opera, but his two appearances with orchestras certainly hold promise.

The content of Wednesday’s program was intriguing. Neely chose to open it with Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to “Oberon,” and to close it with Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.” Between, in a concise, hourlong program, he placed a concerto, an unusual one, Serge Koussevitzky’s one for double bass, as a solo vehicle for a master’s student, Sam Loeck.

Young Loeck did just fine, and with the Neely-led University Orchestra to support him, he triumphed, giving the post-Romantic score beauty of tone and a performance technically assured. Koussevitzky — a legendary conductor of the Boston Symphony, a sometime composer, and a virtuoso double bass player — wrote his lyrical 1902 concerto to give his chosen instrument a boost and, in the process, a showcase for himself. It was he who premiered the piece. The music is demanding. Soloist Loeck proved a more than capable champion as he successfully cajoled his double bass through the composition’s three exacting movements.

The orchestra’s reading of the “Oberon” Overture was picture perfect, meaning that a listener could visualize the world of fantasy composer Weber created for the opera. The quiet string moments were magical; the exultant moments for full orchestra were delivered with ebullience and commendable precision.

Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis” was the ultimate outcome of a ballet project abandoned by the composer and choreographer Leonide Massine. Hindemith’s publisher asked the composer to not abandon the music but to rewrite the material for orchestra. Hindemith did, fortunately for us. It turned out to be one of his best and most popular pieces, colorful and stirring. Maestro Neely recognized its strengths and led a receptive orchestra through an exceptionally vivid performance.

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Effron and company allows us to share the comfort and joy

By Peter Jacobi


The set-up on Wednesday evening looked strange for an Indiana University Chamber Orchestra concert.  Before the music started, all one saw on stage in Auer Hall was a Steinway grand front and center, surrounded by a few music stands, these extended for standing rather than seated musicians.

At 8, the musicians entered, 11 students, each a string player; they took positions behind those music stands.  Joining them on stage were three prominent Jacobs School faculty members: Kathryn Lukas on flute, Jorja Fleezanis on violin, and David Effron at the piano rather than on the podium.

And then, they played.  They played Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 5 in a fashion stylistically situated somewhere between period pure (standing, without conductor, in smaller numbers, vibrato held in check) and romanticized (piano versus harpsichord, strings not period strung).  But once settled in, they offered a spirited reading, pleasant to listen to and in honest service of Bach.  The faculty soloists, in particular, brought a welcome intensity to the music.

After the Bach, with stage restored to normal orchestral set-up, David Effron became the maestro again, wielding a baton while sitting on a stool to conduct fuller contingents of the Chamber Orchestra.  Their material: the Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Jacobs faculty violist and composer Atar Arad and Schubert’s Symphony Number 3.

Arad soloed in his own concerto, and to technically master the solo part surely takes someone as accomplished as he.  Composer Arad has packed every sort of challenge into this 2005 work.  He has said of his goal for the piece: “I wanted the viola to run as fast and jump as high as a violin.  I wanted it to pirouette, to ricochet, to staccato.  I wanted it to dazzle with double-stops and to sing with double harmonics.”

Well, he put all that to paper musically and, on stage, he realized the intention fully.  In mood, much of the score is flavored in Arad’s oft-favored mode: melancholic, hinting at sad thoughts, restless.  One often hears dissonance, as if soloist or orchestra is out of tune.  One experiences more than occasional whip lashings in jarring shifts of rhythm and volume.  One also hears sweet tones during which the composer seems to express his love for the instrument.  All the while, the viola is in the glow of a musical spotlight and, as Arad explains, “echoes music from far away [his native Israel] and another time in my life, music that I greatly treasure and from which I cannot escape.”

The concert-ending Third Symphony of Schubert, in substance and style, pays homage to Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven but also strongly reveals the composer’s singular voice.  The music sings, oozes Viennese charm, and bulges with energy.  Effron and company bathed in its delights, allowing us to share the comfort and joy.
© Herald Times 2014

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Music review: ‘War Requiem’

Audience heartily applauds performance of ‘War Requiem’

By Peter Jacobi


It was concert night Tuesday for a riveting performance in the Musical Arts Center of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” 96 years to the day since Wilfred Owen was killed and one week short of when the armistice to end World War I was signed.

The words of poet and soldier Owen inspired pacifist and conscientious objector Britten when, a war later, he sat down to compose his remarkable, emotionally devastating version of the Requiem Mass. After the writing was finished, Britten would place on the title page these words of Owen: “My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is the pity. All a poet can do is warn.”

The work’s premiere came after war’s end at a significant dedication ceremony for the newly constructed Coventry Cathedral, placed right next to the bombed out shell of the old church. For the British people, a new Coventry meant setting things right and looking forward. For Britten, the commission to write the “War Requiem” became a meaningful way to express his beliefs in country and explain his faith and opposition to war.

To seal his message about the brutal uselessness of war, Britten blended words of the long-established Latin Mass with Wilfred Owen’s anguished and angry poetry. “What passing bells for these who die as cattle,” he asks. “Only the monstrous anger of the guns,” he answers.

The Latin portions are handled by the large main chorus, a solo soprano and the orchestra. Here, that was the Oratorio Chorus, effectively trained by Betsy Burleigh; a fine soprano Megan Wilhelm, willing to unleash unreservedly the power of her voice, and the Indiana University Philharmonic, led superbly by the master of the whole, guest conductor Michael Palmer, who is entitled to considerable praise for the whole of what one experienced.

Owen’s pleas for peace and sanity, written in English, gave two male soloists — tenor Christopher Sokolowski and baritone Erik Krohg — challenges they nobly met. A chamber ensemble of 12 musicians accompanied them, adding another element to the scope of performers. All of the above filled to capacity the stage of the MAC. Then, placed in the top balcony, the 23-member Children’s Chamber Choir, with an organ to occasionally support, sent their voices from aloft, voicing prayers for the departed in Latin, as from a distance but with potent restraint. Brent Gault contributed the training for the children, who sounded radiant.

It’s no mystery, hearing the “War Requiem” again, that an inspired genius, Benjamin Britten, wrote a 20th century masterpiece. It’s a bit of a mystery how IU’s Jacobs School continually tackles major works, such as this one-of-a-kind Requiem Mass, and brings them to fruition in grand manner. Tuesday’s performance was stunning and fully deserved the extended and roars-filled standing ovation from an audience that just about filled the house. One left the theater not only deeply moved but grateful for what we’re so fortunate to have: outstanding musical performances not on one or a few nights, but time and again.


© Herald Times 2014

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MUSIC REVIEW: Behind the score ‘Rite of Spring’

All involved in ‘Behind the Score’ enterprise deserve kudos

By Peter Jacobi


Quite a crowd came to the Musical Arts Center Wednesday evening, and after the music ended, it erupted with cheers and a long standing ovation.

How different from 101 years ago at a theater in Paris where, during and after the performance of the same music, some in the gathered audience applauded but many hissed and booed. Some laughed, thinking they’d been made butts of a joke. Fistfights also broke out in the theater on that May evening, now remembered as the when of a scandal in the history of music, one of the most notorious.

The music on both occasions was Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” In Paris, it served as ballet score. In Bloomington, it was meat just for an orchestra, more specifically the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra.

Now considered one of the most significant works of the 20th century, a piece that propelled the art form of music dramatically forward, it was chosen as this year’s candidate for a “Behind the Score” treatment. The instigator of the concept, which last year used another important masterwork, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, as the music so investigated, is violinist Jorja Fleezanis, part of whose responsibilities on the Jacobs School faculty is to enhance orchestral studies by teaching instrumental students how to be successful as symphony orchestra musicians. “Behind the Score” is meant, in one way, to do that: fill the musician’s mind with background on the music being played, to improve performance through clearer understanding.

The musicians of the Symphony Orchestra, in addition to going through the usual round of rehearsals for Wednesday’s concert, were taken “Behind the Score.”  Musicologist Gretchen Horlacher spoke to them about Stravinsky’s musical language and rhythms. Ballet Department chairman Michael Vernon treated them to critical background on “Rite” as a ballet. Russian music and Stravinsky scholar Richard Taruskin came from the University of California, Berkeley, to address them more broadly on the history of the piece as both ballet and concert favorite.

On Wednesday, the audience saw a 10-minute video by Jon Stante highlighting those pre-concert events.  Then, they heard the result: a dazzling performance led by guest conductor Grzegorz Nowak, who was called in after project co-instigator Cliff Colnot fell ill.  The Polish-born Nowak is principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and artist-in-residence at Florida International University in Miami.  He came with an extensive professional background, and it showed.

The combination of Maestro Nowak’s conducting skills and briefings for students resulted in a riveting performance. Not many long-established professional orchestras could have improved upon what one heard.  The hundred or more musicians on stage — from Nowak to violinist Fleezanis (seated inconspicuously at the rear of the first violin section) and to the percussionists in the rear — were in the zone.  The wild and shifting rhythms, the severe dissonances, the mounting energy and explosive thrusts, the sudden nervous quiets, the bursts of drum-delivered, brass-supported salvos, the individual and mysterious solos, and the grand sweeps of an orchestra in artistic heat: all the elements above, fully mastered and thrillingly exhibited, were part of this extraordinary performance.

In introducing Wednesday’s program Fleezanis had voiced her belief that “Knowledge is power.” Well, a stage-filling host of knowledge-sharpened musicians with an experienced and knowing veteran conductor proved the point.  This was an exhilarating “Rite of Spring.”

During the ovation, conductor Nowak gently pushed Jorja Fleezanis to center stage with him, so for her to get a share of the audience tribute. The gesture brought another volley of cheers. All involved in this admirable “Behind the Score” enterprise deserve kudos.


© Herald Times 2014


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Music from Nazi period focus of symposium, concert

Daniel Hope is the guest violinist and director for the Thursday concert.

Daniel Hope is the guest violinist and director for the Thursday concert.

By Peter Jacobi


Is the name Robert Dauber known to you? Or Gideon Klein? Or Hans Krasa, Erwin Schulhoff and Ilse Weber?

The likelihood is slim, but they’ll be celebrated this coming Thursday in a day-long symposium, “Terezin: Music and Memory During the Nazi Period,” that culminates with an evening concert at 8 in Auer Hall titled “The Music of Terezin: Forbidden Music.”

Dauber was a German composer; the rest were Czech. The five were among the many Jewish artists, musical and otherwise, who went through the concentration camp Terezin (Theresienstadt) to extermination elsewhere. While at Terezin, they helped to create a tradition for the arts. Most apparently became well aware that post-Terezin they faced death. While in the camp, however, they sought to keep their spirits up by engaging in work they loved and, thereby, lift some of the gloom at that notorious Holocaust way station. Their camp commanders, for the most part, encouraged the activity and benefited from the performances that resulted.

Returning to Bloomington as director and violinist of Thursday’s program is Daniel Hope who — in the late and last years of the Beaux Arts Trio — came here as its violinist, establishing friendships that still exist. “I’m really happy to come back,” he says, “and to see Menahem Pressler, a best of friends and avid supporter of my career and this project. I’m so glad to know he’s thriving.”

Hope says performances of music from Terezin, on CD and live, “led to research and immersion. Listening to the music became a journey for me into the world of Theresienstadt. I, at first, had heard none of the music, but when I did, it fascinated me. It was new. It was fresh. I really liked the music and what intrigued me was the tragic history that came with it. There was such promise in the music, promise that remains unfulfilled. Well, I began to play what was mine to play as violinist, and I began to seek out colleagues who could collaborate, among them a longtime friend, your Eric Kim, such a wonderful cellist. Through him, I could bring it to IU. And now, here we are.”

Kim had first heard Gideon Klein’s String Trio in 2000 and was “intrigued by the sound and the complexity of the composition. I almost immediately became interested in it. I became disturbed, listening and knowing the conditions under which Klein wrote the music. That music, of such value and beauty, should languish was wrong. I began to learn it and discovered that to play the trio was awkward, physically different. There were strange patterns in the bowing. The music was written apparently by a composer not that familiar with the strings, and yet, it was so interesting.”

Kim has done four “Music at Terezin” concerts. The effort to bring the concept here has been long standing. “The stars finally aligned, which pleases me. I want others, the avid fans here in Bloomington, to learn more about this troubling part of cultural history.” He recruited his brother Benny, a violinist and violist who teaches at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, to participate in the concert. Another cellist, Keith Robinson, founding member of the Miami String Quartet, will be here, recruited by Hope. Also on stage, you’ll see two members of the resident Pacifica quartet, violinist Sibbi Berhardsson and violist Masumi Rostad. They’ll all join in for a performance of Erwin Schulhoff’s Sextet for Strings, which Hope says is “possibly the most interesting and developed of all the music on the program.”

British pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips will contribute the necessary keyboard parts. And for three songs by Ilse Weber, at the invitation of Eric Kim, one of our favorite mezzos Marietta Simpson will provide her artistry and intensity of feeling. “I was initially interested in the project,” she says, “because I was very excited to have an opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues on the Jacobs faculty. I was unfamiliar with the music of Terezin when Eric invited me. After researching the story of the camp and the culture and art that was created within its gates, reading about the composer and listening to the music, I was deeply moved and wanted to be part of the performance.

“Each of the three songs I’ll be singing,” Simpson continues, “describes a different scene of life in the camp. In the first, “Ich wandere durch Theresienstadt,” the singer wanders the streets of the camp, thinking of home and wondering when the suffering will end. In the second, “Und Regen rinnt,” the rain falls continuously. The singer’s heart is heavy because her child, who will never carol or see misery, is far away. In the final song, “Wiegala,” I sing a cradle song to her child. The moon is the lantern to the dark world, and there is no sound to disturb the sweet repose. The melodic lines of all the songs, which are strophic, are beautiful and show no trace of the sorrow or hardships that must have touched the life of the composer in the camp.”

Violinist Hope expresses hope those of us who come to the concert will “listen with open ears and discover new music written under such adversity but rarely contains feeling of strife. Some is quite upbeat and inspirational. I think some who attend will go away in awe.”


© Herald Times 2014

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MUSIC REVIEW: New Music Ensemble and David Rakowki

By Peter Jacobi


With assistance from the magnanimous Georgina Joshi Foundation and its support for the Five Friends Master Class Series, the New Music Ensemble was able to bring composer David Rakowski to campus for a busy week with composition students in the Indiana University Jacobs School.

The gig ended Thursday evening in Auer Hall with a concert by the ensemble that included two of Rakowski’s works, along with the premiere of a warmhearted and attractive piece by Jacobs School faculty composer Don Freund, titled “Use Your Inside Voice: Moderate Music for 17 Players.”

Rakowski is a Vermont-born-and-raised fellow who first studied trombone and then composing at the New England Conservatory, Princeton and Tanglewood. That has led to a busy life of creating and teaching music. Currently, he serves as Naumburg Professor of Composition at Brandeis University.

He and New Music Ensemble director David Dzubay chose two works of Rakowski, one called “Stolen Moments” for the ensemble, the other a package of three items from his Piano Etudes. For those, Kathy Tai-Hsuan, a doctoral candidate in piano performance, took the stage and created a stir with her deft handling of the music.

“Stolen Moments” moves cleverly, elegantly through four brief movements, with five winds sometimes contrasting, sometimes joining a string quartet. The piano has been carefully tossed in as a complicating third orchestral element. The content features, all subtly interwoven, jazz, the tango and what is definitely chamber music, contemporary and not so. The whole makes one listen for the spice and variety built in and for the loveliness and aural uniqueness of what one hears. The music sounds fresh, welcomes thinking about one’s own stolen moments, and indicates that the composer has found his voice.

Rakowski’s three etudes are titled “Diminishing Returns,” “Quietude” and “Narcissitude.” The first hints at minimalism, with repeated patterns of notes, but here starting from a diminished state, building force, then diminishing again. “Quietude” is restoratively quiet. “Narcissitude” is a showpiece requiring the pianist to deal with ever intensifying speed. Lee truly aced the challenge.

Thursday’s Don Freund premiere celebrates music, the composer says, that “is not terribly loud or blazingly fast or mysteriously quiet or remarkably insistent.” Indeed, the 17 New Music Ensemble players retained a moderation that relaxed this listener and gave him pleasure. Freund referred to the piece as “sweet.” It turned out to be that, thanks to Freund’s imagination, the ensemble’s excellent and sensitive musicians, and ensemble director Dzubay’s contributing interpretation. Everyone performing worked to capture the proper flavor and they did.

To open the concert, Dzubay chose Otto Ketting’s 1972 rather frequently performed “Time Machine.” Its reading, led by Dzubay, had plenty of intended drive and brassiness. I commend the playing. The music itself did not thrill me because of the excessive brassiness and because, for all its drive, it seemed not to go anywhere.


© Herald Times 2014

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MUSIC REVIEW: University Orchestra

By Peter Jacobi


Michael Palmer is here for a pair of performances.

The seasoned and knowing conductor, who graduated from the Indiana University Jacobs School, went on to gather all sorts of professional and academic credentials and now serves as distinguished professor of orchestral studies at Georgia State University, returned to guest conduct Sunday afternoon’s University Orchestra program in the Musical Arts Center.

Next Tuesday, he picks up the baton again for a performance of Benjamin Britten’s grand plea for peace, the remarkable “War Requiem.”

Installment 1 of his obligations, Sunday’s concert, revealed Maestro Palmer as someone who can coalesce a stage-filling assemblage of young musicians and cause them to play with commendable unity and a grasp of what the music they’re playing is meant to convey. He impressed.

Four minutes of Stravinsky in wild rhythm mode and good humor, his “Scherzo a la russe,” got the concert underway boldly and energetically. Palmer had the players in full control, to make a statement about the impact of unity.

He followed with a premiere, a doctoral dissertation piece by Benjamin Taylor, “Worlds without End,” music, the composer says, “stands as a tribute to God” and the infinitude of His creations. The one-movement composition shows a skill for orchestration and an imagination at work. One discerns a spaciousness in the score, a sense of distances and wonder for the reality of the cosmos, wonder about a beckoning universe. Taylor’s mind, the music tells us, has been touched by “Star Wars” and Wagner, by Stravinsky and a here-and-there contemporary American composer (take your choice), as he sought to shape his vivid soundscape, one probably still in a state of flux but already capable of provoking the ears. Palmer and company gave the piece a well-prepared introduction.

The performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 was lush and lovely, appropriate for a lush and lovely work meant to reflect and celebrate the composer’s nationalistic feeling for his Czech homeland.


© Herald Times 2014

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Conductor Paul Mauffray awarded an Honorable Mention in The American Prize competition

Paul paul hMauffray, conductor, Hradec Kralove Philharmonic, Czech Republic, has been awarded an Honorable Mentionin the professional orchestra division of The American Prize in Conducting.Maestro Mauffray was selected from applications reviewed this year from all across the United States. The American Prizeis a series of new, non-profit competitions unique in scope and structure, designed to recognize and reward the best performing artists, ensembles and composers in the United States based on submitted recordings. The American Prize was founded in 2009 and is awarded annually in many areas of the performing arts. Complete information on the website: www.theamericanprize.org.
Conductor Paul Mauffray began his music studies at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Louisiana State University. He was awarded 2nd Prize in the 2007 Bartok Conducting Competition and has 20 years of professional conducting experience with European orchestras and operas in Prague, Brno, Bratislava, Lyon, Salzburg, and Vienna. After studying musicology in Germany and in the Czech Republic, he earned his master’s degree in orchestral conducting at Indiana University where he was engaged as Associate Instructor. Recently he conducted at the Bucharest National Opera, Slovak National Opera, Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, and appeared frequently as conductor with violin-soloist Tomas Vinklat from the Vienna Philharmonic. Paul Mauffray has also been a frequent guest conductor with the Hradec Kralove Philharmonic, Janacek Philharmonic, Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Zlin, and with the Schoenbrunn Palace Orchestra in Vienna.  He is currently reconstructing and performing the 1894 opera “Tabasco” by George W. Chadwick.
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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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