From the ominous opening chords of Beethoven’s Overture to “Egmont,” played with startling force, one could predict that what followed — the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra’s season-opening concert in Auer Hall — would be a success.
It was: from the Beethoven through a contemporary work by Justin Merritt, an IU alumnus, and to Schubert’s popular Symphony Number 5.
In charge was violinist Jorja Fleezanis, the Jacob School’s Henry Upper Chair in Orchestral Studies, sitting up front for the evening as concertmaster and leader, a two-pronged task she’s undertaken here several times in recent years. Having served as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra for 21 years prior to her arrival in Bloomington, she has become a wise and warm presence, helping to guide students toward greater understanding of what, in addition to technical command of an instrument, it takes to become a thriving and appreciated member of a professional orchestra.
Perhaps the ultimate test for a player is to participate in preparing and then performing a concert without a conductor but with a sitting leader, usually the concertmaster. Leader and musicians must work closely to coordinate and emotionally develop readings that will satisfy an audience. Wednesday’s concert concluded such a test for members of the Chamber Orchestra. Thanks to Fleezanis and her ranks of musicians, the results appeared to very much satisfy the audience. Response was enthusiastic.
The “Egmont” Overture was part of Beethoven’s score of incidental music written for a revival in Vienna of Goethe’s play “Egmont.” Very little of that music is performed today, save for the overture, which prominently shows up on symphonic programs. It’s a dramatic piece, meant to reflect a real-life hero, Count Egmont, who fought to prevent the invading Spaniards from taking over the Netherlands. He did not succeed and lost his head. For Beethoven, as for Goethe, he was a heroic figure worth celebrating. The overture does, as did the Chamber Orchestra’s vivid and neatly-put together reading.
Placed between Beethoven and Schubert was “Lachryme” by IU alum Justin Merritt, scored for string orchestra in 2002, a melancholy exercise that might be labeled neo-Romantic in style, very much reminiscent of music composed a long while ago. It proved, nevertheless, interesting to hear and emotionally involving. The orchestration is skillful and effective. Thematic development promotes “Lachryme’s” ample and sadly attractive melodic content. Again, Fleezanis and her young charges captured the essences of mood in an admirably prepared and moving performance.
Schubert’s sunny Fifth Symphony, with its hit parade of lovely tunes, received a delightful, spirited, and yet also refined reading, impressive from start to finish. The performance was a joy to hear, rich as it was in rhythmic verve and brimming with technical confidence. The Fleezanis/student collaboration impressed; it definitely worked.
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