Alum Neely ably leads Symphony Orchestra

By Peter Jacobi

For David Neely, it was a return to where he studied piano and conducting. Now the director of orchestral activities at the University of Kansas and music director of the Des Moines Opera, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music alum Neely took to the podium in the Musical Arts Center Wednesday evening as guest conductor of the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra.

He acquitted himself famously in a short but illuminating and rather unusual program: an operatic overture (to Verdi’s “I vespri siciliani”), an operatic intermezzo (from Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz”), a third work of Italian origin (Respighi’s tone poem, “Fontana di Roma”) and a contemporary piece by IU composer Eugene O’Brien, “Clouds of Magellan.”

Neely whipped up the forces for Verdi’s blood and thunder introduction to a blood and thunder opera that ends with a massacre, along the way, however, allowing a couple of fetching melodies that Verdi assigned to the overture to soar from the strings. Mascagni’s sumptuously scored intermezzo, for an opera with a happy plot and a happy ending, also received a resplendent reading.

Between the two operatic offerings, Neely placed Eugene O’Brien’s contemplative and mystic “Clouds of Magellan,” first performed here in 1996, a year after it was written on commission, that year having been the 175th anniversary of IU’s founding. The composer, at the time, said it was his homage to Debussy and Stravinsky, “two composers whose works influenced my earliest compositional efforts, and to whom I still turn for inspiration.”

The music is cerebral and celestial, suggestive of universal distances, more specifically the nebulae called the Magellanic Clouds which seafarers, including one of the most famous, Ferdinand Magellan, used to navigate. O’Brien called Debussy and Stravinsky his musical navigators. And in listening to his music, one, indeed, could travel, perhaps imaginatively through unknown space, but also just mentally and emotionally through one’s own personal life journey, seeking solace or understanding. “Clouds of Magellan” is consummately orchestrated and was masterfully realized by Neely and the ensemble.

So, too, Respighi’s colorful tribute to the fountains of Rome and their environments was a treat to hear. Not only did the entire IU Symphony, thanks to the visiting maestro, aurally paint evocative scenes, but individual soloists impressively delivered the telling details scattered through the score to depict water and wildlife and the wonders of Respighi’s beloved Rome.

© Herald Times 2013


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