Music Review: Summer Symphony Orchestra
Mozart, Tchaikovsky well served in dramatic, nearly all-student concert
June 22, 2012
Aside from Jacobs School violist Steve Wyrczynski sitting at the rear of his instrument’s section, there were no other faculty musicians on stage Wednesday evening as the Summer Symphony Orchestra gave its first of two concerts.
Nor were there special guests in the ranks, like those who joined the Festival Orchestra at its debut concert last week: no Timothy Lees, concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra moonlighting as the same for that event; no Mark Jackobs, principal violist for the Cleveland Orchestra; no Nancy Wu, associate concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and so forth.
Save for the inconspicuous but undoubtedly helpful presence of Wyrczynski, Wednesday’s orchestra was an all-student ensemble. At the helm was the familiar Cliff Colnot, back down here from his Chicago base for a multi-week stint as conductor/trainer/coach. Unlike the Festival Orchestra, which works under the guidance of three guest conductors, each visiting for a short period of rehearsals and one concert, the Summer Symphony gets the full attention of Maestro Colnot for the entire season.
The close collaborative labor has had a salutary effect. The playing on Wednesday was disciplined and yet responsive, taut and yet flexible. The musicians looked and sounded assured; they also seemed temperamentally, artistically in sync with their leader, expressing the music as a team.
Leader Colnot does not, as do some star conductors, mesmerize an audience with his podium maneuvers. What he does do is more important: He brings to the task a deep understanding of the repertoire he’s chosen and manages to convey his knowledge and wishes to the musicians while also convincing them to do his bidding.
The Overture to Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which opened the concert, featured an ebullient spirit and clarity of ensemble. It was a joy to hear. One would have been happy to see a curtain open to what follows in that delights-filled opera.
There could be no disappointment, however, about what did come next: a moving account of Tchaikovsky’s most popular Symphony, the Fifth. This was a performance of which a far more mature orchestra could have been proud. Colnot had shown his players how to glory in the score: the fate motif introduced and repeated, the rhapsodic orchestral effusions, the tender moments of sheer lyricism for strings, the numerous passages offering soloists to shine (which they did), the hair-raising climaxes with brasses roaring and the timpani pounding away.
Colnot’s approach stressed drama but, fortunately, did not allow it to weaken a needed propulsive forward thrust. Tchaikovsky was well served.