REVIEW: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

By Peter Jacobi

Last April, the Indianapolis Symphony and its gifted music director, Krzysztof Urbanski, paid us a visit to help mark the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” with an indelible performance of that score. This year, we had more Stravinsky, a magical presentation of another ballet score, that for “The Firebird.”

The ballet music came last in an all-Russian program that started with Mussorgsky’s tone poem, “A Night on Bare Mountain,” as completed and orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and continued with Rachmaninoff’s lush and lyrical showpiece, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. For the Rachmaninoff, Urbanski had selected Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya as soloist, and she was remarkable.

The Mussorgsky foreshadowed what was to come. Maestro Urbanski had prepared a devilish evocation of what the composer had in his mind: the mountain-top gathering of witches and sorcerers on the eve of St. John and the ensuing revelry. By now, three years into his directorship, conductor and orchestra seem to have developed effective communication through Urbanski’s clearly defined choreography on the podium. The baton hand keeps the beat. The other provides finger-pointing reminders of which musicians do what. Flutters and waves add to the silent language, as do the body twists and jumps of a lean and lithe physique.

When Rachmaninoff wrote for the piano, he was, of course, writing for himself. In the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, he wrote a dazzling collection of pyrotechnical variations, intermingled with melodic outbursts that helped to make this one of the composer’s most popular works. Soloist Vinnitskaya not only captured the showy aspects of the music but found inventive ways to enrich the melodic line and, thereby, make it emerge as fresh and new. Urbanski and the ensemble added to the inventive reading.

“The Firebird” performance was thrilling, laden with mystery and tonal opulence, a magnificent sampling of what Urbanski has accomplished in making the ISO his sensitive and intuitive partner. They make a team, one I hope stays together for a long while and keeps us, here in Bloomington, on its schedule with regularity.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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Jacobs Alum becomes new orchestra director of the University of Toledo Symphony

UT Symphony Orchestra moving in a new direction

By John Dorsey

 

The University of Toledo’s latest announcement may just be music to your ears. The UT Symphony is proud to welcome a fresh face to their musical family in the form of conductor John Pearse.

In addition to his duties as orchestra director, Pearse is also teaching a course in instrumental conducting.

“I’m so excited to be teaching, to be able to pass on the things that I’ve learned thus far in my career, to talk about collaboration and other aspects of conducting, like simply relating to people—which is so important. I want to make things more accessible to those outside of the symphony community. One is the things that has amazed me already is the number of non-music majors we have who want to get involved. You just have to be able to capture emotion and get them inspired,” Pearse said.

Pearse also currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Bowling Green State University, where he directs the New Music Ensemble and as the Music Director for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Maumee and as a Mentor with the Detroit Civic Youth Ensembles. He received his B.M. Degree in Percussion Performance, with a minor in Conducting from Indiana University in 2011. In 2013, he received his M.M. in Orchestral Conducting from Bowling Green State University. His academic awards include BGSU’s Key to the Sea Percussion Scholarship, and the Performers Certificate from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

He has performed with the La Cross Symphony Orchestra, Opera in the Ozarks, and with Bloomington, Indiana’s Camerata Orchestra and in the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestral Musicians 2012 music festival.

“My whole process as a conductor is just being organized, being ready, and loving what I do. I’ve always loved music, but professionally I don’t think you ever really stop learning, it’s an ongoing process, and that’s what I want to teach my students and bring to my work as a conductor, just that openness to experiencing new things. When I was very young, I listened to Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and I didn’t get it, but music is always changing, and how it impacts us changes and now it is one of my favorite pieces of music and that’s a beautiful thing.”

For more information on the University of Toledo Symphony, visit http://www.utoledo.edu/comm-arts/music/ensembles/uso.html

 

© Toldeo Free Press 2014

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MUSIC REVIEW: IU CONCERT ORCHESTRA, GERSHWIN, BERNSTEIN

Concert’s music enjoyed by audience, performers

By Peter Jacobi

 

By the time Wednesday evening that the Indiana University Concert Orchestra got into Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” conductor Arthur Fagen was dancing on the podium, and the orchestra was rocking.

That happened after intermission, but, truly, the entire program in the Musical Arts Center of Americana, of music by Bernstein and George Gershwin, was a blast. Both the maestro and his band of players were obviously enjoying themselves and justifiably prideful for what they accomplished. So, too, the evening’s soloist entered into the spirit of the occasion. He was pianist Michael Sikich, who played Gershwin’s Concerto in F brilliantly.

The program opened with more Bernstein, the popular Overture to “Candide,” featuring major and familiar tunes from that musical/operetta/opera (choose your designation). Bernstein knew how to fashion tunes, when he wanted to, and he was a skilled orchestrator. In the overture, he exhibited both strengths, dishing up a gem that Maestro Fagen and company treated crisply and with infectious gusto.

Gershwin’s Concerto in F followed. Its soloist, the 20-year-old Michael Sikich, is just a sophomore in the IU Jacobs School of Music, but his bio documents a string of honors, a blossoming career and wide-ranging interests spread from solo keyboard and chamber music to jazz and arts administration. His solo piano credentials were certainly on view Wednesday.

The Gershwin concerto is a showpiece and a showcase. It works when both the soloist and the conductor/orchestra combine have keen technical knowhow and a sense for the world of Gershwin. All involved on this occasion had the goods. The conductor, with the help of the soloist, also must find a way to unify the score’s constantly shifting elements into cohesive movements, a tricky affair, but Fagen and Sikich did. Finally, the soloist must know how to engender the jazzy, ebullient, show-businessy, and sometimes seductive spirit the composer called for; Sikich excelled at the task and earned an extended standing ovation. He’s a genuine talent.

Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances packages nine tunes and themes from “West Side Story.” In sum, they suggest the unfolding plot of this Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired musical, from youthful adventure and romance to ultimate tragedy. Thanks to Fagen and the orchestra, one heard the raucous and the poignant in a niftily coalesced and engagingly flamboyant reading. Again, the audience responded with abounding enthusiasm.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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Music review: Chamber Orchestra and Fleezanis

Conductor-less orchestra delights Auer audience

By Peter Jacobi

 

The format was different for the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra on Wednesday evening in Auer Hall. For a program of 18th, 19th and 20th century music, it turned into a conductor-less, leader-led ensemble.

There was no podium. There was no one prepared to step upon that podium. The cues came, instead, from the first chair in the first violin section, from where the concertmaster sits, from Jorja Fleezanis who claims a double faculty title in the IU Jacobs School: professor of music in violin and Henry Upper chair in orchestral studies.

It was Fleezanis who put the program together and trained the musicians for an absolutely lovely concert of works by Mozart, Grieg, Elgar and Stravinsky. She was following a practice both old and revived. Prior to the last half of the 18th century, orchestras — smaller-scaled than symphonic ensembles of today — functioned without conductors. And in the middle of the 20th century, orchestras — most of them of chamber size — began to be organized to perform without baton wielders. As example, take the highly respected, New York-based Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, which has visited here.

Well, who better to try this with the IU Chamber Orchestra than Fleezanis? She came to the university in 2009, following a 20-year stint as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra. An important part of her faculty duties is the training of string players, particularly violinists, to work as units within the ranks of an orchestra. On Wednesday, she expanded that duty. The results were informative and delightful.

The Overture to Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” a saucy and zesty item, gained a reading crisp and tidy, with plenty of sauce and zest, and wit, to boot. For Edward Grieg’s “From Holberg’s Time-Suite in the Old Style” and Edward Elgar’s “Sospiri: Adagio for String Orchestra,” only the strings were required. And as prepared by Leader Fleezanis, the task, again, was proficiently accomplished.

The Grieg was that composer’s commemoration piece for the bicentennial, in 1884, of Ludvig Baron Holberg’s birth; he was a Norwegian writer who came to be known as the Moliere of the North. Written first for keyboard, Grieg soon orchestrated the suite. The music is charming, happy, lush, a series of 18th century dance forms infused with a late 19th century spirit. Its performance dazzled. Elgar’s brief, five-minute Adagio, “Sospiri” (Italian for “sighs”), composed in 1914, is a radiant and soothing item that evokes peace while provoking memories of something or someone loved and gone. The orchestral strings and harp gave the music its appropriate and satisfying benign presence.

Closing the concert was Igor Stravinsky’s 1938 Concerto in E-flat Major, “Dumbarton Oaks,” commissioned by a prominent Washington, D.C., couple who lived in a mansion called Dumbarton Oaks. The work was to mark the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary. Though structured much like a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, the concerto’s voice is contemporary, making for a bracing mix that pleased the commissioners and, since, has given chamber orchestras an entity to embrace. Fleezanis and her young musicians most surely embraced it.

© Herald Times 2014

 

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John J. Pearse to join music faculty at the University of Toledo as orchestra director

John J. Pearse, (BM Percussion Performance 2011, Performer Certificate 2010), has recently been appointed the Orchestra Director at the University of Toledo in Ohio. In addition to conducting the orchestra, he will teach classes in conducting technique.

John recently graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2013 with a masters of music in Orchestral Conducting.  He was appointed to direct the Bowling Green State University New Music Ensemble. No stranger to this ensemble, he took part in many performances as both conductor and percussionist. One highlight includes a performance of HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! acting as chansonnier/conductor. John also remains active as a performer, playing with various local orchestras in Ohio, and mentoring the students of the Detroit Civic Youth Ensembles in Michigan.

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MUSIC REVIEW: IU SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND DAVID NEELY

Alum Neely ably leads Symphony Orchestra

By Peter Jacobi

For David Neely, it was a return to where he studied piano and conducting. Now the director of orchestral activities at the University of Kansas and music director of the Des Moines Opera, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music alum Neely took to the podium in the Musical Arts Center Wednesday evening as guest conductor of the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra.

He acquitted himself famously in a short but illuminating and rather unusual program: an operatic overture (to Verdi’s “I vespri siciliani”), an operatic intermezzo (from Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz”), a third work of Italian origin (Respighi’s tone poem, “Fontana di Roma”) and a contemporary piece by IU composer Eugene O’Brien, “Clouds of Magellan.”

Neely whipped up the forces for Verdi’s blood and thunder introduction to a blood and thunder opera that ends with a massacre, along the way, however, allowing a couple of fetching melodies that Verdi assigned to the overture to soar from the strings. Mascagni’s sumptuously scored intermezzo, for an opera with a happy plot and a happy ending, also received a resplendent reading.

Between the two operatic offerings, Neely placed Eugene O’Brien’s contemplative and mystic “Clouds of Magellan,” first performed here in 1996, a year after it was written on commission, that year having been the 175th anniversary of IU’s founding. The composer, at the time, said it was his homage to Debussy and Stravinsky, “two composers whose works influenced my earliest compositional efforts, and to whom I still turn for inspiration.”

The music is cerebral and celestial, suggestive of universal distances, more specifically the nebulae called the Magellanic Clouds which seafarers, including one of the most famous, Ferdinand Magellan, used to navigate. O’Brien called Debussy and Stravinsky his musical navigators. And in listening to his music, one, indeed, could travel, perhaps imaginatively through unknown space, but also just mentally and emotionally through one’s own personal life journey, seeking solace or understanding. “Clouds of Magellan” is consummately orchestrated and was masterfully realized by Neely and the ensemble.

So, too, Respighi’s colorful tribute to the fountains of Rome and their environments was a treat to hear. Not only did the entire IU Symphony, thanks to the visiting maestro, aurally paint evocative scenes, but individual soloists impressively delivered the telling details scattered through the score to depict water and wildlife and the wonders of Respighi’s beloved Rome.

© Herald Times 2013

 

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MUSIC REVIEW: IU CONCERT ORCHESTRA, EFFRON, IOANNIDES

Soloist, orchestra and conductor make a complete package

By Peter Jacobi

An orchestra playing tremendously well, a fascinating Japanese work and a Beethoven piano concerto given an elegant and introspective performance: these were benefits for listeners attending Wednesday evening’s Indiana University Concert Orchestra program in the Musical Arts Center

Conductor David Effron once again had made sure that an orchestral ensemble working with him would play with distinction. The repertoire: “Fruits de brume” by the Japanese composer Akira Miyoshi, Robert Schumann’s Symphony Number 4, and — with Andreas Ioannides as soloist — Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 2.

The Japanese piece alone undoubtedly required more than the average amount of rehearsal. Presented as part of the Jacobs School of Music’s Fall Festival of Contemporary Japanese Music, this impressively orchestrated item called for all sorts of percussion: cymbals, tam-tam, cowbell, vibraphone, gong, bells, marimba, glockenspiel, xylophone and more. What one heard was, at first, near-silence, evanescent, misty, as the title word “brume” or “mist” promises. But the orchestral canvas broadens and deepens from those early whispers into the geniality of bells and the ping-pangs of mallet instruments, then progressively into not-so-genial cataclysmic uproar, and, finally, a return to quiet and calm.

The performance sounded assured and left a mark. Not mentioned in the printed program or by announcement was word that composer Miyoshi died just a month ago in Tokyo at age 80. Maestro Effron and the orchestra, however, certainly honored the composer with their high quality reading of “Fruits de brume.”

Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, his last, gains along its sometimes lively, sometimes dreamy, always expressive path a Brahmsian quality, this for its intensity and compressed orchestration. One heard that relationship on Wednesday. The symphony also features themes to which Schumann returns, the repetitions serving to unite the movements and make of them a seamless work. To further that effect, the movements often are performed without pauses between them.

That was not the case on this occasion. Nevertheless, Effron and company managed to give the piece its needed flow, along with a growth in exuberance and abundant vitality.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 2, believed to be his first save for its publication date, shows what the composer could accomplish in the early days of his orchestral maturity. A delightful work it is, and delight was at all times evident as soloist Ioannides joined a significantly-reduced-in-size Concert Orchestra for a performance both intimate and refreshingly warm.

During much of the score, the pianist is exposed, unable to hide under the cover of orchestral support; a mistake, just a wrong note, would threaten the fragile fabric of the musical line. That did not happen. The Cyprus-born pianist, now a doctoral student of Menahem Pressler, was technically in firm control from the first uncovered notes forward. And along with technical command, he brought grace and spring and delicacy and refinement and joy to his performance. The melodies rang and sang. The intricacies, during cadenzas and elsewhere, were handled with polish. In total, Ioannides offered the complete package. For that to happen, of course, a complementary orchestra and collaborating conductor were necessary. Fortunately, he had them.

© Herald Times 2013

 

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MUSIC REVIEW: CHAMBER ORCHESTRA AND FAGEN

Conductor’s skills and background the right mix

By Peter Jacobi

Proof gathers that the addition a few years ago of Arthur Fagen to the conducting faculty at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music was an astute one. With every outing, he proves that his wide background handling both operatic and symphonic responsibilities was of just the right mix to take care of local needs.

Just this fall, he conducted a meticulous and warm IU Opera Theater production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and now, on Wednesday evening, a beautifully prepared concert in Auer Hall by the Chamber Orchestra. His repertoire: Rossini’s Overture to “La scala di seta” (“The Silken Ladder”), Ottorino Respighi’s “Gli uccelli” (“The Birds”), and Mozart’s Symphony Number 40.

Meticulous and warm held true in Wednesday’s readings. One discerned wit and effervescence, too, as the orchestra skipped and pranced through the melodies and forged the crescendos in the curtain raiser Rossini wrote for his one act comedy about a secret marriage that prompts all sorts of misadventures, including the husband’s use of a silken ladder to reach his wife’s bed chamber.

Maestro Fagen had skillful orchestration at his disposal in the Respighi. Known best for two large-scaled and lush tone poems about the fountains and pines of Rome, in “Gli uccelli,” the composer, in 1928, made use of Italian and French music from the 17th and 18th centuries to fashion a five-movement suite paying homage to birds. A get-things-started Prelude is followed by sound portraits of “La colomba” (“The Dove”), La gallina” (“The Hen”), “L’usignuolo” (“The Nightingale”), and “Il cucu” (“The Cukoo”). A brilliant orchestrator, Respighi sagaciously outlined those winged creatures. Conductor and orchestra filled in the details with a richly colored and robust performance.

The Mozart Symphony Number 40, one of his final three, calls for dramatic tension, elegance, transparency, and an aura of spontaneity. All these, Fagen’s interpretation and facilitation possessed, and in generous measures. Very much present, too, were the hard-to-capture but needed blends of moods dark and light, of the agitated and poignant, of the melancholic and joyous.

 

© Herald Times 2013

 

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Music Review: IU Concert Orchestra

By Peter Jacobi

The Indiana University Concert Orchestra in reduced numbers made a favorable impression as the pit ensemble for IU Opera Theater’s recent production of “The Marriage of Figaro,” but not until Saturday evening did it get a season send-off in full size. Its seasonal debut in the Musical Arts Center was a notable one, undoubtedly aided by the gentleman on the podium.

Paul Nadler, possessor of a vita laden with significant orchestral and operatic experience, was the visiting baton wielder in charge, and he’d obviously done his job. The orchestra played with technical assurance and insight in readings of Schumann’s Overture to Manfred,” Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, and Debussy’s “La Mer,” a challenging program, to be sure.

Schumann was much taken by Lord Byron’s dramatic poem about Manfred, a man insensitive to the plight of others who lives in solitude high up in the Alps. He wrote a whole score: overture and 15 other pieces for orchestra, chorus, and soloists. The overture has been taken off the shelf far more often than the rest and was again for this concert. It calls for tension of mood and whipped up climaxes. With Maestro Nadler in command, the Concert Orchestra matched tension with taut playing and reveled in the climaxes.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, one of his strongest creations, reflects the composer’s intense feelings about current events during World War II years. It contains angry music and sardonic and, near the end, a hint of hope. The orchestration is suggestive and bold. Nadler’s interpretation and the orchestra’s realization gave the performance an accumulating and propulsive power, just as Stravinsky undoubtedly must have hoped for.

Between the Romanticism of Schumann and the modernism of Stravinsky, Nadler placed the Impressionism of Debussy, specifically the famous three symphonic sketches that comprise “La Mer.” The composer spoke of “my old friend . endless and beautiful. The sea that is stirred up wants to dash across the land, tear out the rocks, and has tantrums like a little girl.” The dashing and tearing and the ferocious were very much in evidence in Saturday’s neatly crafted and commendable performance.

© Herald Times 2013

 

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Music Review: IU Philharmonic

Review: New work, Mahler’s First make for glorious evening

By Peter Jacobi

One can imagine the young composer thinking with trepidation, “They’re going to play my composition on a program with Mahler’s First?” Well, they did, and he needn’t have worried.

On Wednesday evening in the Musical Arts Center, the Indiana University Philharmonic performed Elliott Bark’s “Yook-I-O (6-5-2) Korean War Letters.” It preceded a reading of the Mahler symphony.

Both works were conducted by David Effron, who happens to have been Bark’s conducting teacher in the IU Jacobs School of Music and made sure to give his student’s work, winner of the 2013 Dean’s Prize, a thoroughly thought out and gripping performance, with the Philharmonic’s exceptional collaboration, of course.

On the whole, it was quite an evening: a new composition good enough to be heard again and a superbly crafted reading of Mahler’s glorious Symphony Number 1. The audience seemed to feast on the musical goodies, listening in restrained silence, then, after each item, exploding into unrestrained enthusiasm.

The title, “Yook-I-O,” says Bark, means six-two-five in Korean and represents June 25, the day in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea — for his country, like Dec. 7 is for us, a day that lives in infamy. The composer collected six letters written home by American soldiers while experiencing that conflict. The letters express a wide range of topics and feelings: a response to a girlfriend’s breakup note; dreams of being home for a mom’s cooking; the description of a hill that “stinks something terrible all over with dead bodies”; an expression of needed faith, of God’s presence, “so near you can almost reach out and touch Him.”

The music those letters inspired is suggestive of their content: loud, abrasive, and timpani-punctuated for scenes of battle; nostalgic and warm for dreams; mournful for the tragedy of pain and loss. The orchestration is compelling, provocative, and fertile. Effron and the orchestra treated it with fervor and care.

As for the Mahler, Maestro Effron has made it known in words and deeds that he loves the man’s symphonies. And there could be no doubt that he conducted the First with love and depth of understanding. He used no score as he led his hundred young musicians through this hour-long score: the first movement depicting the dawn on tiptoes, then breaking into brilliant sunshine; the second, initially an audacious Austrian peasant dance, a landler, then a relaxed and attractive waltz; the third, a pronounced funeral march mixed with rambunctious bursts of Hassidic rhythms; the fourth an aurally massive, life/death-like struggle culminating in a climax that cannot but symbolize the at-least temporary victory and joy of life.

The Philharmonic invested its collective soul in the performance, meeting Effron’s every notion and motion with absolute confidence. The musicians and their conductor gave the symphony a reading technically outstanding and interpretively penetrating and impassioned. One could not have asked for more.

© Herald Times 2013

 

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