Guest conductor elicits mature sound from IU Symphony

  • By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |

The list of visiting conductors continues to get longer. One addition, the Israeli Nir Kabaretti, took to the podium for the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra program in the Musical Arts Center on Sunday afternoon. Still another, an American named Stefan Lano, will complete the university’s orchestral season as conductor for the Philharmonic Orchestra Wednesday evening.

As I write this review on Monday morning, there’s been no word on whether the list of all these guests will generate a hire, someone to join what is now a one-person orchestra and opera-conducting faculty, the fortunate-we-have-him Arthur Fagen.

Whether or not a hire comes, we’ve been able to enjoy hearing our orchestras under a stream of talented leaders, including Sunday’s visitor. Kabaretti currently holds two principal jobs: music director of both the Santa Barbara Symphony and the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra. His bio also includes a long string of guest gigs with orchestras and opera houses on several continents.

On Sunday in Bloomington, he proved that among his skills is the ability to work with students. The IU Symphony sounded awfully good, even mature, in a program that held two compositions written in 1981, Christopher Rouse’s “The Infernal Machine” and Robert Muczynski’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra for which the orchestra was joined by a splendid saxophone soloist, Bob Eason. After intermission, the guest maestro and the student Symphony Orchestra presented a neat and nifty reading of a favored classic, Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” as brilliantly arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel.

Muczynski’s Alto Saxophone Concerto was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and is a composition that offers a parade of opportunities for the soloist to shine. Bob Eason did. His handling of the instrument reflects his Jacobs School training with Otis Murphy, an equally cool customer who had studied with still another such, Eugene Rousseau. Eason brought lyricism into his playing as well as explosive force when called for. Throughout, one heard the playing of a fine musician, the playing of an artist devoted to doing the responsible: that being to treat the music with respect for the composer’s intent. That, in part, seemed to be a reminder to listeners that the saxophone’s inventor, Adolphe Sax, sought to win a place for his instrument in a classical orchestra. From Sax to Muczynski to Eason and Kabaretti, the concerto appeared to serve.

Maestro Kabaretti’s decision to end his program with Mussorgsky’s homage to an artist friend, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” was a wise one. Musicians can aurally paint scenes ranging from bickering children and hatching chicks to a hectic market and eerily quiet catacombs and, finally, to the grand gates of Kiev. That’s a thrilling journey when performed by a worthy orchestra and wise conductor. Sunday’s combination of Maestro Kabaretti and the IU Symphony Orchestra had what it takes, and then some. The audience was stirred into a standing ovation.

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