Music review: Chamber Orchestra and Fleezanis

Conductor-less orchestra delights Auer audience

By Peter Jacobi

 

The format was different for the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra on Wednesday evening in Auer Hall. For a program of 18th, 19th and 20th century music, it turned into a conductor-less, leader-led ensemble.

There was no podium. There was no one prepared to step upon that podium. The cues came, instead, from the first chair in the first violin section, from where the concertmaster sits, from Jorja Fleezanis who claims a double faculty title in the IU Jacobs School: professor of music in violin and Henry Upper chair in orchestral studies.

It was Fleezanis who put the program together and trained the musicians for an absolutely lovely concert of works by Mozart, Grieg, Elgar and Stravinsky. She was following a practice both old and revived. Prior to the last half of the 18th century, orchestras — smaller-scaled than symphonic ensembles of today — functioned without conductors. And in the middle of the 20th century, orchestras — most of them of chamber size — began to be organized to perform without baton wielders. As example, take the highly respected, New York-based Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, which has visited here.

Well, who better to try this with the IU Chamber Orchestra than Fleezanis? She came to the university in 2009, following a 20-year stint as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra. An important part of her faculty duties is the training of string players, particularly violinists, to work as units within the ranks of an orchestra. On Wednesday, she expanded that duty. The results were informative and delightful.

The Overture to Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” a saucy and zesty item, gained a reading crisp and tidy, with plenty of sauce and zest, and wit, to boot. For Edward Grieg’s “From Holberg’s Time-Suite in the Old Style” and Edward Elgar’s “Sospiri: Adagio for String Orchestra,” only the strings were required. And as prepared by Leader Fleezanis, the task, again, was proficiently accomplished.

The Grieg was that composer’s commemoration piece for the bicentennial, in 1884, of Ludvig Baron Holberg’s birth; he was a Norwegian writer who came to be known as the Moliere of the North. Written first for keyboard, Grieg soon orchestrated the suite. The music is charming, happy, lush, a series of 18th century dance forms infused with a late 19th century spirit. Its performance dazzled. Elgar’s brief, five-minute Adagio, “Sospiri” (Italian for “sighs”), composed in 1914, is a radiant and soothing item that evokes peace while provoking memories of something or someone loved and gone. The orchestral strings and harp gave the music its appropriate and satisfying benign presence.

Closing the concert was Igor Stravinsky’s 1938 Concerto in E-flat Major, “Dumbarton Oaks,” commissioned by a prominent Washington, D.C., couple who lived in a mansion called Dumbarton Oaks. The work was to mark the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary. Though structured much like a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, the concerto’s voice is contemporary, making for a bracing mix that pleased the commissioners and, since, has given chamber orchestras an entity to embrace. Fleezanis and her young musicians most surely embraced it.

© Herald Times 2014

 

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