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.