Review: Guest conductor leads an extraordinary show with IU Chamber Orchestra

Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer

I turned off the network news at 7 on Wednesday evening, depressed by a number of current issues. I headed to my car, started the engine and tuned the radio to WFIU, hearing some of Giuseppe Verdi’s intense “Requiem Mass.” The beauty of the music made me start to forget the day’s briefing on politics and the rest.

As I drove to the Musical Arts Center parking lot, the beauty of the music helped me wash away the gloomy news. Once parked, I walked over to Auer Hall, saw and chatted with friends and waited for the concert to begin at the appointed hour of 8.

It did. Guest conductor Marzio Conti entered the stage and took a bow and then a seat to lead just the strings of the IU Chamber Orchestra. Immediately, I relaxed and continued to do so for the next 60 to 70 minutes, listening to an exuberantly led concert of works by Luigi Boccherini (an orchestral version of his String Quintet in C Major: “La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid”); Mozart (his K.453 Piano Concerto in G Major), and Ottorino Respighi (“Trittico botticelliano”).

As with the Verdi in the car, so with the Chamber Orchestra’s repertoire in the concert hall, the music hooked me: the Boccherini, which was unfamiliar to me; the Mozart, which I know and love; and the Respighi, which I’ve heard once or twice but not for a long while.

Music and performance combined throughout to bring joy to a listener’s heart, certainly this listener’s heart. Maestro Conti, an Italian who serves as music director of the Oviedo Philharmonic in Spain, is in the midst of an extended visit, having already conducted IU Opera Theater’s production of Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment” last month, and now the Chamber Orchestra, and will close off his stay as conductor of IU Ballet Theater’s annual extravaganza, “The Nutcracker.” Conti has been here before and, in my estimation, earned awfully good marks each time; the students always seemed to respond enthusiastically to his training and leadership. They did so once again on Wednesday.

The Boccherini, translated as “Night Music of the Streets of Madrid,” proved delightful, a charming stroll or hop, skip and jump through those streets as the composer experienced them in the 18th century. Boccherini, strangely, told his publisher: “The piece is absolutely useless, even ridiculous, outside Spain because the audience cannot hope to understand its significance nor the performers to play it as it should be played.” I beg to differ. I could contemplate the places that inspired the composer. And with a conductor in charge who has spent years in Spain, the young members of the University Orchestra brought environmental validity to their reading.

Mozart’s K.453 is a delicious score that requires a light and buoyant touch from both the orchestra and the soloist. What was required one heard in generous proportions. The performance was gorgeous. At the Steinway was Yu-Pang Yu, a Jacobs student seeking a master’s degree; his pianism was remarkably genuine, the fingers floating with ease and clarity up and down and across the keyboard. The concerto’s score often leaves the soloist at the mercy of no competing orchestral sounds, thereby making any wrong note stand out dramatically. Well, there were no wrong notes, only Mozart’s sublime expositions, sublimely offered.

Respighi’s descriptive passages for three paintings of Sandro Botticelli are tone poems that can take a listener on a journey back to that artist’s imagination. The composer used melodies from the 17th and 18th centuries and spiced them with his unique orchestral style, here an inviting blend of old and new. Maestro Conti and the University Orchestra supplied a riveting performance.

I left Auer Hall smiling and calm, feeling cleansed. Back home, I avoided the late evening news and, instead, headed for bed still smiling.

© Herald Times Online 2016

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