Showing posts with label David Amado. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Amado. Show all posts

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Enjoying the 'Three Rs' of DSO Music

By Christine Facciolo

Forget the three Bs. The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) capped off its 2018-19 season with works by 'the three Rs': Respighi, Rachmaninoff and…Rozsa?

You may not know his name, but chances are you’ve heard his music, especially if you’re a film buff. Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995) was a Hungarian-American composer best known for his film scores. Rozsa’s Hollywood career earned him considerable success and recognition, including 17 Oscar nominations and three wins for “Spellbound” (1945), “A Double Life” (1947) and “Ben-Hur” (1959).

Rozsa also remained faithful to his classical music roots with his compositions earning the plaudits of the likes of Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky and Janos Starker, who commissioned the work played this night.

The orchestra eased into the evening with a performance of Respighi’s highly descriptive symphonic poem the “Fountains of Rome.” Composed in 1916, the work remains a fine example of the brilliance with which Respighi uses the resources of the orchestra. (That’s not surprising since he was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, who wrote the book on orchestration, both literally and figuratively).

The DSO invested its performance which much skill and care. The first movement, The Valle Guilia Fountain at Dawn, conveyed a distinctly bucolic tone, while the buoyancy of The Triton Fountain in the Morning conjured up images of water spouts. The solemnity of The Trevi Fountain at Mid-Day soon gave way to euphoria reminiscent of a classic Hollywood film score. The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset provided a pastoral conclusion with notable contributions from the woodwinds. The expressive playing led to a distant tolling of a bell — in this instance one of the Kerrigan Bells of Remembrance — heralding the ebb of the music.

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis. Photo courtesy of artist.
Rozsa’s Cello Concerto, Op. 32 offered another palette, not to mention tangy harmonies and the rhythmic flair of the composer’s native Hungarian language. The first movement full of strong ideas and a cadenza of riveting virtuosity. By contrast, the central movement is lyrical and tinged with anguish. The final movement bristles with energy and — once again — rhythmic élan.

This is a stout, boldly communicative work that deserves and demands to be heard much more often. Kudos to DSO Music Director David Amado for programming it and to virtuoso cellist Nicholas Canellakis for learning it for this concert. (The work is so well-hidden that not even the majority of cellists know it exists.)

Canellakis is a highly articulate soloist who not only performs the music; he inhabits it. His impeccable technique enables him to remain confident and in control while executing the fiendishly difficult passages Rozsa throws at him (and there are many). That composure allows him to convert pyrotechnics into phrases that are rich in beauty and meaning.

The audience responded by breaking decorum with applause between movements. After three curtain calls, Canellakis obliged with a performance of the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite, No. 1 in G major.

Following intermission, DSO Board Chairman Charles Babcock honored philanthropists Gerret and Tatiana Copeland for their support of the orchestra. Mrs. Copeland told the audience that she and her husband had their first date at The Grand. She also told the heartfelt story of how Rachmaninoff — “Uncle Sergei” to her — supported her family during a financial crisis.

The DSO’s rendering of the composer’s final symphony was equally heartfelt. Amado caught all the passion of the first movement while simultaneously retaining its lyrical qualities, defined the poetic elements of the second movement and concluded the symphony with all the energy and enthusiasm a finale deserves.

Monday, October 8, 2018

DSO Opens Season with Tribute to Leonard Bernstein

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) wowed a near-capacity audience at The Grand on Friday, September 28 as it opened its 2018-19 season with a quintessential American program.

The concert, titled “The American Dream: A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein,” celebrated the composer’s centenary as it honored contemporary composer Robert Paterson, this year’s recipient of the Alfred I. du Pont Composer’s Award.

The concert opened with Paterson’s Dark Mountains. Prior to the concert, the composer offered some thoughts about his compositional processes and attitudes. He told the audience that he was not a “lab coat” composer who wrote not for his colleagues but for the concert-going public. Moreover, he added that no special knowledge is needed to enjoy classical music and that no one is obligated to like a piece of music because it’s “classical” or otherwise.

Commissioned by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Dark Mountains takes inspiration from the terrain and the shifting atmospheres it creates in the state. The work unfolds in three connected but contrasting sections. The first and third sections depict placid scenes with plenty of lyrical and expansive passages replete with sounds of chirping birds and crickets. The middle section recalls a drive through the twisting roads of the mountains under a darkening sky. Jagged rhythms with shifting meters and slashing dissonances make for a most intriguing and eclectic work.

By contrast, Aaron Copland’s perennially popular Appalachian Spring is characterized by an optimistic sound that evokes a boundless but tempered optimism. Appalachian Spring recounts in musical terms the struggle and joy of those in the American Christian “Shaker” movement of the mid-19th Century who created a new life in the wilderness. In eight short moments, Copland takes us on a challenging musical journey. The tempi alter dramatically, making it challenging not only for the musicians but for the conductor, both of whom poured everything they had into their performance of this complex work.

Like Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance derives from a ballet Samuel Barber wrote for Martha Graham. But whereas the Copland work is placid and idyllic, Barber’s Medea is unsettling and deranged.

The tone poem extracted from the music progresses from a bleak inward concentration to the murderous Medea’s climactic final frenzy. Under Amado’s exacting direction, the orchestra handled the complex cross-rhythms with crackling virtuosity, rising inexorably to the bravura coda depicting Media’s unbridled fury.

The highlight in a program full of highlights was guest violinist Jennifer Koh’s brilliant outing in Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium). The celebrated Serenade is a work for solo violin and orchestra inspired by Plato’s dialogues about the nature and purpose of love. Each of the work’s five movements features a philosopher’s views on the subject as well as commentary on the others’ views.

Amado and the DSO made much of the work’s contrasting moods, from the lyrical first movement to the chaotic finale with its constantly changing meters. Koh was of a similar mindset, as her brilliant and polished playing alternated from sinewy to serene while always maintaining a beautiful rich tone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

DSO's Final Performance of Season Spotlights Mahler

By Christine Facciolo
For a work that for many years was regarded as the “ugly duckling” of Gustav Mahler’s nine completed symphonies, the Seventh is turning up with greater regularity just about everywhere in the classical world.

On Friday, May 18, night it was David Amado’s turn to lead the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) in its first-ever performance of this most enigmatic and fascinating work.

Amado prepped the audience in a pre-performance that pointed out the orchestral and rhythmic subtleties as well as the advanced harmonic language that presaged the Second Viennese School, making an indelible impression on a young Arnold Schoenberg.

The Mahler Seventh has always been considered a problem piece. Entire musicological conferences have been devoted to its analysis but agreement remains elusive.

Amado’s reading of the mercurial first movement, with its hauntingly beautiful tenor horn solos, offered a bit of everything: power, brilliance, mystery, even dreaminess. He was mindful of details — every instrumental solo stood out in relief — but he never lost track of the overall trajectory and architecture. Indeed, the performance was such that Mahler’s careening shifts in tonality and mood made perfect and logical sense, serving as a foundation for the “night” movements that followed.

Amado and the DSO were most impressive where Mahler is most impressive, that is, in the symphony’s three central movements. The second movement is a kind of nocturnal march, introduced by a call and response motif in the horns. Colorful elements such as cowbells and warbling woodwind bird calls instilled a pastoral atmosphere throughout. But not quite as the march theme remained eerily unsettled, vacillating between a major and minor key.

The second Nachtmusic was more successful at evoking an Alpine, folksy charm with a subtle but effective mandolin and guitar accompaniment.

The third movement Scherzo was downright strange with its mix of waltz tunes and Landler. There seemed to be an oddity at every turn. One of the most striking gestures was a pizzicato in the cellos and basses, which were instructed by Mahler to pluck the string so hard that it rebounds against the fingerboard.

The performance concluded triumphant rendition of the complex Rondo finale. What in lesser hands would come across like a bizarre mash-up of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and Lehar’s The Merry Widow, here exuded the feel of exuberant rejoicing. A guest appearance by The Bells of Remembrance aided in the joyful culmination of a tentative journey from dusk to dawn.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Schnittke (and Haydn and Beethoven) Happened with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra

By Christine FaccoloSchnittke happened…as did Haydn and Beethoven at the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) final Chamber Series Concert of the 2017-18 season.

It’s doubtful if many (or any) in attendance had even heard of, much less witnessed, a performance of Alfred Schnittke’s witty Moz-Art a la Haydn. Written in 1977, the work appeared at a time when composers were moving away from the perceived elitism and dissonant sounds of modern atonality toward an expression that favored a synthesis of more familiar styles. The goal was to restore music to its former position as the language of emotions as they hoped to bridge the gap between themselves and the listening public.

Moz-Art a la Haydn is a prime example of Schnittke’s uncanny ability to fragment and reassemble diverse elements in novel and unexpected ways. Schnittke based the work, scored for two violin soloists (David Southorn and Peter Bahng) and a small ensemble, on Mozart’s unfinished pantomime music K 446. Also mentioned are the composer’s Symphony No. 40 and Haydn’s Farewell Symphony.

The work opens with the performers, seated in total darkness, improvising on the Mozart pantomime material. A diminished chord prepares for the introduction of neoclassical material. Familiar sounds and colors come and go, forcing the listener to try and make sense of it all. The 12-minute adventure ends as one violinist de-tunes her violin, the lights go out and the musicians shuffle off the stage one-by-one “a la Haydn,” leaving the conductor to beat time to absent music to an absent orchestra.

Speaking of Haydn, DSO principal cellist Philo Lee delivered a superb account of that composer’s C Major Cello Concerto 
 a piece that remained undiscovered for some 200 years until 1961. Virtuosity was in the forefront here, especially in the rapid passages of the finale, all dispatched with great precision and pinpoint intonation. Lee’s playing was further enhanced by a most sensitive use of dynamics and a rich, singing tone.

The upbeat program closed with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, which DSO Music Director David Amado noted was his favorite. Unfortunately, it is one of the least performed of the symphonies, having largely been overshadowed by his other monumental works, including its neighbors the Eroica and the famous Fifth.

The introductory Adagio was full of mystery, and the color of the string sound was rich. The Allegro vivace was full of fervor, and the accents dramatic and well-balanced. The slow movement, one of Beethoven’s most sublime, was clear and flowing, enhanced by heartfelt contributions from principal clarinetist Charles Salinger. After a very robust scherzo, the galvanizing finale was impressive, bringing the audience to its feet with enthusiastic and appreciative applause.

Monday, February 19, 2018

DSO Celebrates First Sellout in Five Years

Guest soloist, Elena Urioste (violin). 
By Christine Facciolo
Concertgoers were treated to an evening of the savage and the sublime as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra opened the second half of its 2017-18 season Friday, January 26, at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

The program consisted of just two works: Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major with the critically acclaimed Elena Urioste making a return appearance as guest soloist.

The event also marked a milestone: it was the first sold-out concert in five years.

DSO Music Director David Amado chose to open the concert with the Stravinsky work — something that’s seldom done — saying it would be particularly effective for audience members rushing to their seats to hear the opening bassoon solo, which was gracefully delivered by DSO Principal Bassoonist Erik Holtje.

The 81 members of the DSO were supplemented by an additional 22 musicians to perform the work in its original version.

Anyone who thought The Rite of Spring had lost its edge over time would have left Copeland Hall thinking otherwise. Stravinsky’s score throbbed with primitive eroticism until the very last chord was struck. The performance was as thrilling as anyone could have wanted: a powerful mixture of alien harmonies and jagged rhythms, virtuosity and controlled savagery.

You could feel the sacrifice happening around you. The bass drum and timpani add a fierceness to the “Ritual of Abduction,” the double basses an earthiness to the “Spring Rounds.” The bass clarinet added heft to the winds while brazen brass howled at the height of the ritual.

The Stravinsky/Beethoven pairing made perfect sense when one considers that The Rite of Spring redefined 20th Century music much as Beethoven’s Eroica had transformed music a century earlier.

Friday’s performance marked the return of violinist Elena Urioste. Urioste last appeared with the DSO in 2010 when she soloed in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The 32-year-old has enjoyed many career milestones since then, most notably being selected a BBC 3 New Generation Artist in 2012.

Urioste is a triple threat, with copious amounts of beauty, brains and talent. She was genuinely thrilled to be playing again with the DSO and it showed. Clad in a floor-length black gown, she took an expansive view of this long and repetitive work that is considered one of the most difficult in the genre.

Right from the opening tutti, which Urioste played along with the orchestra, her performance was joyful and congenial. She was profound without being pretentious in the first movement; lyrical without sentimentality in the larghetto; and playful without being frivolous in the final rondo. Her intonation was spot-on, letting the extremely high notes ring with an impressive resonance. Her impeccable technique allowed her to toss off the bravura passages with crispness and clarity, the softer passages with sublime sensitivity.

The audience showed its appreciation immediately after the first movement, when it broke concert protocol to applaud amidst gasps of “Wow!” Those lucky enough to have gotten tickets for this performance summoned Urioste back with three curtain calls, hoping that they wouldn’t have to wait another eight years for her return.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

DSO's Land & Seascapes

By Christine Facciolo
Musical impressions of land and seascapes filled Copeland Hall Friday night as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra performed the second concert in its Classics Series at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

The concert was also the occasion for the presentation of the A.I. du Pont Composer’s Award to David Ludwig in recognition for his contribution to contemporary classical music. The 43-year-old Bucks County, Pa. native who teaches at Curtis, is the scion of a distinguished musical family that includes pianists Rudolf and Peter Serkin and violinist Adolph Busch. His teachers have included composers Jennifer Higdon, Ned Rorem, John Corigliano and Richard Danielpour, among others.

The concert opened with a performance of La Mer, Debussy’s rich and masterful depiction of the ocean. The work unfolds in three movement or “sketches” — one calm, one wavy, one stormy — with a kaleidoscope of colors that challenges every corner of the orchestra.

The DSO came well-prepared for the challenge. Music Director David Amado and the musicians effectively balanced the sunnier effects with the more ominous elements in Debussy’s sprawling canvass. Special effects provided by two harps and an array of percussion complemented excellent work from the winds, brass, robust strings, cellos and fine solo work from associate concertmaster Luigi Mazzocchi.

Pictures from the Floating World pays homage to Debussy with titles taken from his water pieces — The Sunken Cathedral, In a Boat, Reflections on the Water — but the music is entirely original. Ludwig stated that it was not his intention to transcribe Debussy but rather to use his “clay.” The older composer’s influences are evident in the harmonies and splashes of orchestral color that permeate the work.

Ludwig’s writing for the bassoon is both exquisite and technically demanding. The piece was composed for principal bassoon Daniel Matsukawa of the Philadelphia Orchestra which commissioned and premiered it in 2013. Matsukawa wanted a piece that would showcase the lyrical side of the instrument that’s become the buffoon of the orchestra.

Soloist for this performance was William Short, co-principal bassoon of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Tonight was a homecoming of sorts for Short who served as DSO principal bassoon from 2012-2014. Short also studied with both Matsukawa and Ludwig while at Curtis and has previously performed the concerto as well.

Short turned in a totally virtuosic performance, exhibiting superb breath control in the long phrases and note perfect accuracy in the staccato passages. Particularly effective was the intimate interweaving with cellists Philo Lee and Naomi Gray in the chamber-like interludes that separate the work’s three main movements.

Rounding out the program was Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. One wonders how many audience members have heard this work performed live, as it has — undeservedly — fallen out of fashion on the concert circuit.

This was a marvelous performance, full of character yet never overblown or vulgar. The first movement, Sunrise opened with exquisitely played French horn, oboe, flute and English horn solos. Chimes sparkled and hammered timpani strokes gave the climax depth and power. Wonderful oboe octave leaps with woodblock accompaniment rendered a delightfully nostalgic On the Trail as did the celesta solo that preceded the lively coda. The entire performance sparkled in color, ensemble and continuity.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

OPENING NIGHT: Delaware Symphony Orchestra

By Christine Facciolo

Delaware Symphony Orchestra
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography
Classical music devotees savored a Fifth of Beethoven at The Grand Friday, September 15, as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra kicked off what promises to be one of the most ambitious seasons in its 111-year history.

But before the orchestra rolled up its sleeves for the Beethoven, it offered up some lighter fare, courtesy of Prokofiev and Mozart.

Prokofiev subtitled his Symphony No. 1 (1917) the “Classical Symphony,” in homage to Haydn. Prokofiev’s ability to blend his 20th Century voice with the style of the great classicist is indeed remarkable, making this one of his most popular works.
The piece is usually performed by a large modern orchestra. But here, the orchestra was pared down appropriately, giving the music a lighter texture. The string work throughout was captivating. The Gavotte proceeded with its dislocated tune and plodding rhythm, while the final movement bubbled along at an exhilarating pace, producing many admiring smiles and enthusiastic applause.

Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra (K.299/297c) was the companion piece on the first half, an apt choice, since Haydn influenced Mozart as well as Prokofiev. Amado partnered DSO principals Kimberly Reighley (flute) and Sara Fuller (harp) who gave a poised yet exuberant reading of this finely wrought work. The orchestra carried out its supporting role with as much commitment as if it were center-stage, befitting the intimate nature of the piece, especially the flowing Andantino.

After intermission, Amado and the orchestra got down to business with a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, certainly the most well-known – possibly the most beloved – work ever created.

Familiarity can breed contempt but not in this case. As Amado pointed out, there is always something new and interesting to discover in Beethoven’s Fifth. First, were those introductory notes really the hammer blows of fate knocking at the composer’s door? Probably not. A theory developed in the 1990s holds that those famous fortissimo phrases were influenced by Luigi Cherubini’s “Hymn du Pantheon.” Cherubini was a prominent composer during the French Revolution. Beethoven was a passionate supporter of the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Amado also pointed out the symmetry within the symphony’s first eight notes as well as the thematic and harmonic relationships between its movements.
If you listen to the Fifth largely on recordings, it’s easy to forget host thrilling a live performance ca be. This was a beautifully focused, fully energized performance of the Fifth with all the necessary elements in place: sonorous strings, flawless brass playing, full-bodied winds and above, a sense of drama and grandeur. The insistent C on the timpani had a palpable presence here, offering am effective set-up for the glorious, fortissimo rising chords that usher in the finale. 

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

DSO Concludes Its 2016-17 Season Celebrating Beethoven

By Christine Facciolo
A Beethoven overture followed by a Beethoven concerto followed by a Beethoven symphony. It doesn’t get much better than — that unless you factor in solid performances in a lush garden venue on a perfect early summer evening.

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Amado gave a post-season performance in the open-air theatre at Longwood Gardens that continued the orchestra’s year-long exploration of the works of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The opening offering, the Coriolan Overture, was written in 1807 intended for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s tragic play Coriolan, which was about the semi-legendary Roman figure Gaius Marcius Coriolanus. The work loosely follows the course of the play, beginning with some emphatic declamatory chords followed by an anxious scurrying motif. The first part is cast in a minor key depicting a bellicose Coriolanus and his intention to invade Rome. The move to a gentler theme in a major key suggests a softening of his attitude as he yields to his mother’s pleas not to invade the city. He has, however, brought his army to Rome’s gates and cannot turn back, so he kills himself. The performance was as fierce as the music, allowing Amado to demonstrate to perfection his control of the orchestra and its dynamics.

The highlight of the evening was Peter Serkin, one of the great pianists of our time, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It was hard not to feel starstruck by such an accomplished musician, and when he walked onstage with a relaxed smile, he seemed not only confident but relaxed and generous.

This work, which Beethoven wrote before the first piano concerto, features some of the composer’s most famous tunes. Serkin, who is obviously very familiar with this concerto, gave the first movement a delicate and elegant reading. He captured the serenity and spirituality of the second movement with a personal and beautifully touching interpretation. The third movement was all fun as it introduced the theme in an off-beat rhythm. (Later when the theme is played on the beat, it almost sounds wrong.) The tempo was well-judged and the interplay between orchestra and soloist was well-nuanced under Amado’s direction.

After the break, the evening continued with the Symphony No. 4, an Amado favorite but one that continues, unfortunately, to be underrated given its position between the “Eroica” and the ubiquitous Fifth.

The first movement opened with a tension-filled Adagio which gave way to a vigorous Allegro with striking dynamic contrasts, including some mellow sounds from the woodwind section. The Adagio was beautifully sculpted with some very effective soft-playing mid-movement. The finale scampered along with a strength and brio that characterized the entire performance.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Closing the DSO Season with Love from Russia

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) brought down the curtain on its 2016-17 Classics series on Friday, May 12 with a robust Russian program that included Stravinsky’s Ode, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 3 featuring soloist Sergei Babayan.

DSO Music Director David Amado assured the audience that the program was curated well in advance of the 2016 elections and was not meant to reflect events taking place on the international stage.

Delaware audiences don’t get to hear enough Russian music performed, so this was a real treat to hear it played with the kind of fervor and genuineness that were on display in The Grand Opera House.

Rachmaninoff has a reputation for writing dark, sultry and impossibly difficult piano music. The Third Concerto in particular is often considered to be the Mount Everest of Romantic pianism, an image long cemented in the public mind thanks to its appearance as a major plot device in the 1996 film “Shine,” based on the life of pianist David Helfgott.

Soloist Sergei Babayan was born in Armenia into a musical family. He trained at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory and has performed in some of the world’s most foremost venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York and Wigmore Hall in London.

Babayan offered a multidimensional reading that revealed the depth of both composer and artist. His bass notes thundered on demand and there was no shortage of dynamic punch but there were also moments of ecstatic passion and quiet repose. The DSO for its part provided either gentle support or a rousing call to arms. The communication between soloist and conductor was obvious.

The DSO also gave Amado 100% in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 which followed the intermission. The first movement received an urgent performance yet one that was imbued with an appreciation of the composer’s balletic grace. The second movement was played in the manner of a song without words, allowing Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous melodies to soar. The string exhibited a pizzicato virtuosity in the brief scherzo while the finale crackled with plenty of rhythmic acuity from the strings and the woodwinds in their exchanges leading up to the various appearances of the “big tune.”

The program opened with Stravinsky’s Ode. Commissioned to mark the passing of Natalie Koussevitzky, the work manages only a fleeting elegiac tone in the bustling opening Eulogy. That element is reserved for the concluding Epitaph. The central Eclogue offers the most interesting music. Recycled from an abandoned “Jane Eyre” film project, this section features brilliant wind writing with its lively contrapuntal hunt motif nimbly executed by the DSO horns.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Beethoven, Brahms and Clyne & Pianist Alon Goldstein at DSO

By Christine Facciolo

Works by Beethoven, Brahms and Clyne kicked off the second half of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House Friday, February 24, 2017.

DSO Music Director David Amado characterized the program as
containing two sunny works by two of music’s more morose composers (Beethoven and Brahms) and a mournful one by a more sanguine one (Anna Clyne).

The primary work of the night was the Symphony No. 2 in D Major by Johannes Brahms. After waiting many years to complete his inaugural symphony, Brahms produced the second one in nearly a fortnight during the summer of 1877 while visiting the Austrian town of Portschach am Worthersee. Its bucolic character has invited comparisons with Beethoven’s Sixth.

The composer’s Alpine setting is felt from the opening notes, before the violas and cellos develop a variation of his famous lullaby melody for most of the first movement. Amado was masterful in bringing out the rich textures and contrasts between drama and reverie that characterize the movement, the longest in any of Brahms’ symphonies.

The inner movements were equally strong. The cellos played to the enigmatic Adagio, while the strings and winds danced playfully in the delicate Allegretto grazioso.

The energy of the final movement presented Amado with another opportunity to play up the shifting dynamics of the work. The return of the Alpine elements signaled that we had come full circle and the symphony wrapped with a glorious burst from the trombones bringing the audience to its feet.

Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein was the featured artist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C Major. The concerto, dedicated by Beethoven to his pupil, the Countess of Bratislava, has been described as Mozartean in character. However, the Beethoven concerto is much more Romantic than Classic in style, as evidenced by its expanded orchestration, virtuosity and abrupt harmonic shifts.

Goldstein gave a fiery rendering of the concerto, performing the fast outer movements at brisk tempos with sparkling fingerwork. Likewise, he tossed off the torrent of notes in the first-movement cadenza with effortless virtuosity.

But Goldstein showed he was no mere musical acrobat. His playing was full of lyrical warmth and rhythmic flexibility, especially in the contemplative slow movement cast in the dark, distant key of A-flat Major.

Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto is a tough one to top in an encore, but Goldstein pulled it off with another fiery performance of the first of Alberto Ginastera’s three Argentinian Dances.

The concert opened with a sensitive performance of Within Her Arms, by young British composer Anna Clyne. This short (15-minute) work for string orchestra is an earnest, yet not overwrought, memorial to her mother who died in 2009. Based on a touching poem of comfort by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, the work begins with a stately processional, builds to an urgent climax and then returns to its opening serenity.

Amado led the 15 string players drawn from the ranks of the DSO through a moving performance of the sorrowful work. The ensemble brought a sensitivity to the music as well as to each other, blending the wispy counterpoint with bold, bass-anchored lines to produce chamber music at its finest.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

DSO Chamber Series Highlights Two Great Works

DSO Concertmaster, violinist David Southorn
By Christine Facciolo
The Delaware Symphony Orchestra opened its 2016-17 Chamber Series Tuesday, October 18, at the Hotel du Pont’s Gold Ballroom with stellar performances of two of the most important works of the chamber music repertoire: Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht and Vivaldi’s iconic The Four Seasons.

Schoenberg and Vivaldi might seem like an odd pairing, but both works explore an insightful journey via the pictorial marriage between poetry and music.

Inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel, Verklarte Nacht describes a conversation between a man and a woman as they walk through a dark forest under a brilliantly expressive night sky. The woman is pregnant with a child of a different man. The man she is walking with loves her and tells her he is prepared to accept her unborn child as his own.

The work unfolds in five sections which correspond to the structure of Dehmel’s poem. The various emotions of the two characters 
 love, pain, guilt, forgiveness — find their equivalents in Schoenberg’s passionate music, making the work one of the first examples of program music written for a chamber ensemble.

Originally scored for string sextet, DSO Music Director David Amado opted for the expanded version for string orchestra. The group of 22 strings produced a meaty performance that emphasized the dramatic structure of Verklarte Nacht but never at the expense of the score’s lyrical beauty. The textures were appropriately bass heavy, yet every line came through with exceptional clarity, allowing the counterpoint to drive the music and lead the ear through the dense harmonic web. The cadences, 
where suddenly a radiant major chord wells up from the dour depth, produced a profound sense of exaltation.

The second half of the program featured Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons 
 one of the most recognizable works of the classical music repertoire. Like Verklarte Nacht, The Four Seasons conveys a journey through spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each season is introduced by a poem, possibly composed by Vivaldi, that offers a description of what experiences the music is about to conjure up: The heat of summer; the peasant celebrations and imbibing of autumn; the violent storms of spring; and the cold and ice of winter.

DSO Concertmaster David Southorn was nothing less than brilliant as soloist in these four “evergreen” concertos. He delivered it all 
 a powerful sound; immaculate precision and compelling agility in the furious figurations of the fast sections; impeccable phrasing and a polished lyricism in the more tranquil sections. This was a zestful performance that continued unabated until the final note was struck.

Southorn was ably supported by the 22 string players. This was a beautifully balanced performance with a nice contrast between soloist and orchestra. The programmatic drama of the score was neither shortchange nor overdone, leaving the impression that each participant had contributed something important.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

DSO Closes Season on a High Note

By Christine Facciolo
Emotions ran high last week as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra closed its 2015-2016 season — The Season of the Bells — at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

Maestro David Amado conducted a program that offered just two works. But when one of those works features the gut wrenching emotionality of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, anything more would have felt like overload.

The concert opened with David Ludwig’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, with Bella Hristova as soloist. The semi-programmatic piece which was commissioned by an eight-orchestra consortium — including the DSO — celebrates Ludwig’s marriage to Hristova. Its three movements recount the wedding ritual (preparation, ceremony, celebration) within the broader themes of partnership, empathy and communion.

Ludwig invested the work with captivating moments and effects: asymmetrical rhythms, loping harmonies, ascending glissandi as well as unusual timbral combinations.

The work opens with a violin exclamation and everything a symphony orchestra can throw at it to signify transformative power of love and commitment before progressing to various Eastern-European style dances. The music builds to a brilliant raucousness, blending virtuosic cadenzas with warm lyricism.

The second movement opens with a tender melody in the solo violin that blossoms and grows joyful. This section serves as a touching tribute to the father Hristova never knew, Soviet-era composer Yuri Chichkov. Ludwig tracked down a rare copy of the violin concerto Chchkov wrote decades ago and incorporated an excerpt into this movement as a tribute to family.

Finally, the third movement “Festival” is as about as bacchanalian as a wedding reception can get. Bulgarian dances with their fluctuating rhythms run rampant, including Ludwig’s own version of the “Crooked Dance,” which mimics how the less-than-sure-footed revelers attempt to make their way home.

Hristova is one of today’s most celebrated artists with a superb technique and a sumptuous sound. Not surprisingly, she invested this performance with a sense of the whole, while balancing fiery virtuoso and deep passion with a sensitivity and softness.

Political passion consumed the second half of the program which featured Shostakovich’s massive Symphony No. 11, which premiered in 1957. The symphony is subtitled The Year 1905, a reference to the failed Russian revolution of that year. Critics initially dismissed the work as little more than glorified film music. Many now consider it to be more reflective in attitude, one that looks back on Russian history from the standpoint of 1957. Another interpretation views the symphony as a response to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the composer’s widow has stated that he did in fact “have it in mind” during its composition.

Lasting more than an hour, the symphony consists of four movements played without pause. Each movement bears a descriptive title relating to the revolution. The brooding first movement “The Palace Square” readily conveys the tension of the gathering workers, whose massacre is the subject of the feverish second movement “The 9th of January.” The third movement “In Memoriam” is deeply meditative while the finale, “The Tocsin,” sizzles with excitement.

Amado and the DSO performed this difficult piece with heart-wrenching emotion and cinematic sweep. The strings invested just the right amount of melancholy in the slow movements while the brass, winds and percussion brought drama and tension to the fast movements, especially the finale with its floor-shaking bass drum, crashing cymbals and tam-tam and cataclysmic tolling of the Bells of Remembrance.

It was a masterful rendition that kept the audience on the edges of their seats during the performance and brought them to their feet at its conclusion.

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Much-Welcomed 'Spring Night' Courtesy of Delaware Symphony Orchestra

By Christine Facciolo

Myth, legend and a concerto featuring a most unlikely instrument filled the bill last weekend as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) performed its Classic Series “Spring Night” at the Laird Performing Arts Center at The Tatnall School in Greenville.

This was also the occasion to honor Christopher Theofanidis, this year’s recipient of the DSO’s A.I. duPont Composer’s Award. Theofanidis, Professor of Composition at Yale University School of Music, is one of today’s most celebrated and sought-after composers. His orchestra concert work Rainbow Body is one of the most performed new orchestral works of the last 10 years, having been performed by more than 100 orchestras worldwide.

The concert opened with a performance of Theofanidis’s Dreamtime Ancestors, a 17-minute tone poem based on Australian aboriginal creation myths. Theofanidis, who spent time in Western Australia, developed a fondness for these stories while working on his oratorio “Creation/Creator” in 2015.

The stories hold that we are connected to our ancestors past and future through the land. Our ancestors made the land leaving behind remnants of their existence. That is why we feel connected to a certain place. Theofanidis’s tone poem calls the dream state an “all-at-once-time,” where there is no past present or future. He read a tone poem to introduce the audience to these concepts before his composition was performed.

The work unfolds in three movements. The first is called “Songlines.” These are the things our ancestors left on Earth, such as rivers and mountain ranges. The second movement is called “Rainbow Serpent.” This mythical character is common to all aboriginal tribes in Australia. As the serpent moved along the Earth, it left a rainbow in its wake. Its light represents the source of the sun. The closing movement “Earth Stone Speaks a Poem” tells us that even so-called dead objects have something to say.

Dreamtime Ancestors is a romantically lyrical piece of music with no sharp edges, a perfect vehicle for DSO players. Theofanidis has crafted a work that is both accessible yet rhythmically, melodically and texturally complex.

The piece opens with a horn fanfare followed by layers of strings punctuated by cymbal crashes. The initial theme recurs throughout the movement which concludes with a drum roll, cymbal crash as the strings fade out.

The strings own the second movement as their lingering sounds recall the halo effect left by the serpent as it slithered along the Earth. The energetic final movement opens with a clapboard sound (provided by principal percussionist William Kerrigan) after which the strings, then horns and winds join in. Principal flutist Kimberly Reighley offers a strong passage and the movement comes to a close with a resounding crash.

Dreamtime Ancestors was matched with a deserving rarity, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto of 1954. The tuba did not gain membership in the symphonic orchestra until valves were perfected in the second decade of the 19th Century. Composers welcomed its profound timbre, but Vaughan Williams tapped into the soul of the instrument.

This is a serious concerto in three movements, complete with cadenzas in the first and third movements. In his pre-concert remarks, DSO Principal Tubist Brian Brown revealed he had studied with John Fletcher who made the seminal recording of the work under the baton of Andre Previn in 1972.

Brown delivered a performance that proved him a worthy successor. His tone was big, fat and buttery yet deft and delicate. The opening movement with its run-filled cadenza and the rapid finale were convincing even as they had their share of humor. But it was in the second movement, Romanza: Andante sostenuto, where Vaughan Williams is at his most pastoral and for those few minutes Brown made you believe his instrument is the most beautiful in the orchestra. To be moved to tears by a tuba was indeed a rare pleasure.

After intermission, the orchestra took up works by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-81) and Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971).

Mussorgsky (1839-81) was one Russian committed to making music based on his country’s folklore, rather than the refined manners of 18th Century France or Italy. His Night on Bald Mountain, composed in 1867, evokes a witches’ Sabbath on Mount Tiglav, near Kiev. So violent and strident were its harmonies and instrumentation that it shocked fellow Russian nationalist Rimsky-Korsakov, who felt compelled to purge the score of those atrocities following Mussorgsky’s death. He even tacked on a conclusion designed to bring the work into line with contemporary standards of piety.

Nothing got lost in this performance, though, as DSO Music Director David Amado drew out the shocking elements retained in the score. There was nothing refined or stylized about this performance. This was pure Mussorgsky. Punctuation by one of the Bells of Remembrance just added to the authenticity of the performance.

Furthermore, if not for Rimsky-Korsakov’s serene conclusion, we would have been deprived of Charles Salinger’s superb clarinet solo and Kimberly Reighley’s mesmerizing flute solo in the composition’s closing minutes.

Following was a knockout performance of Stravinsky’s Petroushka. This centerpiece of ballets written for Serge Diaghilev tells the story of the lonely of the sad puppet Petroushka and his said demise.

Amado led an extraordinary performance that brought out all the colors of Stravinsky’s kaleidoscopic score: the hectic opening of the Shrovetide Fair in all its exuberance; Petroushka’s pathos and his rage against the machine; the Moor’s bizarre dance with the ballerina and the eerie code with the ghost of Petroushka thumbing his nose at the magician.

Especially noteworthy were contributions from (again) flutist Reighley, trumpet Brian Kuszyk, clarinetist Salinger and pianist Lura Johnson.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

DSO & Brasil Guitar Duo Wow Audiences with US Premiere

By Christine Facciolo
The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) both secured a place in music history and established itself as a strong contender for a 2017 Grammy nod with this weekend’s performance and recording of three double guitar concerti, including the US Premiere of El Libro de Los Signos (The Book of Signs) by Cuban composer and cultural icon, Leo Brouwer.

Lending their virtuosic playing to the project was the Brasil Guitar Duo, the stunning collaboration of the supremely musical Joao Luiz and Douglas Lora. Endowed with extraordinary professionalism and technical mastery, these two young talents — who met as teen-aged guitar students in Sao Paolo — have earned critical acclaim for the sensitivity, refinement and mutual respect they bring to every performance.

The near sell-out crowd was especially hushed during their performance. One might attribute that to the fact that they knew recording was in progress. But it’s more likely they were simply in awe of this breathtaking display of artistry.

Luiz and Lora introduced themselves to the audience with a masterful performance of the unaccompanied Sete Aneis (7 Rings) by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti (b. 1947). This one-movement composition in Rondo form is based on the “choro,” one of the first forms of Brazilian urban music, which made its way to Rio de Janeiro from Africa in the mid-19th Century. The work is a study in contrasts and the duo accommodated. A wistful opening morphed into a blazing pizzicato passage before wrapping up with a lyrical and tender finish.

Next came the much-anticipated US Premiere of El Libro de los Signos (The Book of Signs) by Brouwer (b. 1939), widely considered to be the most significant living composer of art music for the guitar. This work — scored for two guitars and string orchestra — features music from Brouwer’s Afro-Cuban roots mixed with traditional form. The work was composed in 2003 at the behest of Greek guitarist Costas Cotsiolis and John Williams, and premiered in January 2004 at the Megaron Theatre in Athens. According to the composer, its language uses sounds to explore its rest-motion ambivalence.

The first movement features a series of variations on a theme by Beethoven. The second gives the same treatment to a more lyrical theme. The third — and most virtuosic — exhibits more of the Cuban influence. Brouwer achieves a seamless web of sound by the interplay of passages that at times have the guitars sounding like the orchestra and at other times having the orchestra play in the style of a guitar.

The duo rounded out their portion of the concert with a performance of the Concerto Caboclo for two guitars and orchestra composed especially for them by fellow Brazilian Paulo Bellinati (b. 1950). The duo honored their idol — who was in attendance — with a masterful performance.

Bellinati draws on Brazil’s rich musical heritage, infusing it with contemporary harmonies and techniques. The opening movement is most unusual for a concerto. In place of a fast-paced Allegro, the soloists enter with a cadenza in which they share musical materials much like a conversation. The orchestra entered only to be interrupted by another cadenza. Even as the movement increased in intensity, the music never lost the relaxed and lyrical feel of the coutryside.

The second movement (Adagio) was inspired by the Brazilian songs known as modas de viola. In keeping with the question-and-answer structure of these songs, one could frequently hear rhythmic ostinatos used in one guitar as accompaniment for the other. More ostinatos are heard in the final movement, which featured catchy rhythms and flashy fingerwork. Maestro David Amado’s meticulous direction of the orchestra’s dynamic levels ensured that the soloists were never overpowered.

The second half of the program was devoted to a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, an opium-filled tale of love, obsession, betrayal and murder. In his pre-concert remarks, commented on how Berlioz, who made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his “Treatise on Instrumentation,” took an abstract form — the symphony 
 and used it to tell a story. And while symphonies that followed a program had existed before, most notably Beethoven’s Pastoral, Berlioz took the process to its logical conclusion with every note geared to the specifics of his p lot. That accomplishment as well as his use of the “idée fixe” would go on to inspire composers like Wagner and Liszt.

This truly iconic work poses a challenge to any conductor: Do you play the music and let the story take care of itself, or do you help it along? Amado’s reading is absolutely on the right side of sentimentality. His interpretation bristled with desire and intention. The first movement was playful and flirtatious. The ball waltzed itself into sheer delirium. As the music turned dark, Amado followed suit: the rhythms were unyielding; the mocking of Berlioz’s hero filled with spite. He kept the momentum going beyond the March to the Scaffold. The Witches’ Sabbath with its growly brass and tense strings sustained the nightmare to the very end. And let’s not forget the punctuation of the requiem Dies Irae by The Bells of Remembrance, which are featured in each concert of the DSO’s Classics Series this season.


Monday, September 14, 2015

A Masterful Performance of 9/11 Remembrance from DSO & Mastersingers of Wilmington

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.

Mozart’s Requiem took on an added poignancy as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra opened its 2015-16 season — the “Season of the Bells” — with a tribute to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The deeply human drama of the Requiem was a perfect choice for the concert, titled Remembrance and Redemption.

Musicologists often argue about what the work might have sounded like had Mozart lived to complete it, demonstrating what his pupil Franz Xaver Sussmayr did to make the work performable.

DSO Music Director David Amado took a different tack. In his pre-concert lecture, he maintained that whatever the weaknesses and differences in Sussmayr’s work, he did at least know Mozart and his version has endured for more than two centuries.

Whether by sheer artistry or the suggestive power of the occasion — I like to think a bit of both 
 the musicians and singers seemed at their best in the intimate sections of the Requiem.

The soloists soprano Brenda Harris (who traveled last-minute from Connecticut to fill in for the ailing Mary Wilson), mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Brian Downen and baritone Grant Youngblood drew the pathos and solace from the Recordare and the Tuba mirum, the latter graced by a lyrical trombone solo.

The Mastersingers of Wilmington sang with force and assurance, executing complex vocal lines with ease and applying judicious phrasing.

This concert was the first in the five-concert Classics series to feature the Bells of Remembrance, Brother David Schlatter’s poignant memorial to those who lost their lives at Ground Zero including his friend, mentor and fellow Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, the first to die in the terrorist attacks. Amado chose Cesar Franck’s symphonic poem, “Le Chasseur maudit” (The Accursed Hunter) for the bells’ season debut, quipping that he was giving the rarely performed work its Delaware premiere just as he gave it its St. Louis premiere during his tenure with that city’s orchestra. Based on the poem “Der wilde Jager” by Gottfried Burger, the story is a classic tale of disobedience and damnation: a miscreant count chooses hunting over church one Sunday and is condemned to be chased by demons for all eternity.

The horns were resplendent; the call to the hunt in the opening bars was arresting. The alternation between solemn hymns and frantic hunt was powerfully executed. The orchestra’s principal players, especially the winds, provided subtly colored solos. The tolling of the church bells — this time with real bells — was a dramatic and somewhat sinister harbinger of what was to come.

But it was the waves of sound from each section of the orchestra that drove the action, culminating in a massive G minor thwack from the deity.

The concert opened with George Tsontakis’ Laconika (2010), with the composer in attendance. The title is a pun on the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s name (LACO) as well as a nod to the native New Yorker’s Greek heritage, as he explained.

The title also represents the composer’s intent on writing something laconic or Spartan rather than the larger movements he typically favors. As a result, the 15-minute score divides into five, short pop-song sized pieces: Alarming, Lacomotion, Mercurial, Laconicrimosa and Twilight.

This is hardly groundbreaking music — the ear catches more than a few clichés 
 but Tsontakis somehow manages to keep it sounding fresh and authentic, and the DSO obliges. Apropos this concert, Laconicrimosa, which was written when the composer’s mother was ill, makes reference to the Lacrimosa of Mozart’s Requiem.

The tone for the evening was set with a solemn arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner by Otto Werner Mueller, professor of conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and Amado’s teacher.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bravo to the 'Heroes and Heroines' of the DSO!

By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, and music for film.

The Delaware Symphony kicked off its 2014-15 season Friday evening at Wilmington's Grand Opera House. Board chair Charles Babcock — thrust into his role by the sudden death last summer of then chairman Bruce Kallos — gave a light-hearted (if lengthy) welcome to the near full house.

Music Director David Amado led the orchestra and audience in an enthusiastic rendition of our national anthem. Those of us who attended the pre-concert lecture had already met the soloist for Beethoven's 5th piano concerto — Venezuelan Gabriela Martinez, a charming and lovely young woman, is a graduate of Juilliard and winner of the Anton Rubenstein competition. Her conversation with Amado revealed her strong feelings for the music of Beethoven and her ability to learn concertos quickly — her budding career has included filling in for indisposed soloists.

While their discussion prepared us for a concerto of heroic dimension, the performance by Martinez and the DSO seemed to be propelled instead by lyrical sweep. Martinez plays with a clarity that communicates with great immediacy to an audience. I also enjoyed her use of the pedals, which colorized her sensitive phrasing. While she could always be heard over the orchestra, she nevertheless finessed her approach with daring pianissimos. She and Amado suggested that the second movement was the opposite of the first, introspective as opposed to heroic, yet they chose a tempo a little quicker than some, emphasizing the congenial rather than the mystical. Martinez had spoken of the chamber music implication of Beethoven's detailed writing for the orchestral instruments. Her obvious intense listening to those voices produced a beautiful unanimity, also enhanced by the sensitivity of conductor Amado, himself a pianist. The brilliance of the finale was as much due to Beethoven's witty side as to the composer's heroic strokes. I much preferred to take this concerto on its own terms, rather than be put in the frame of mind of Beethoven's publisher, who dubbed the piece "Emperor." I think for Beethoven, it was just music.

The second half gave us Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov's suite Scheherazade, based on this heroine's endless spinning of tales during 1,001 nights, successfully fending off the threat of the murderous Sultan. As a musician myself (a former bassoonist in the DSO), I realized I had performed this piece much more often than I had actually heard it from the audience. What a brilliant masterpiece it is! Most of the piece plays itself: the rich Arab-tinged harmonies, the memorable tunes, the rhythmic propulsiveness, the striking instrumental solos.

As in their lyrical approach to Beethoven, Amado and the orchestra relished the sweeping melodies, the swells of Rimsky's ocean. The only place that may not have worked quite so well was in the second movement, The Kalendar Prince, which is highly sectionalized. Yes, a good story has many fascinating episodes, but there must be a dramatic tension binding them — as with comedy, it's in the timing, which might have been more dramatically satisfying in this performance. I cannot fail to mention many of the featured musicians, quite a few of whom were my colleagues when I was in the orchestra. One who came after me is the youthfully ebullient concertmaster David Southorn, who shown brightly in Rimsky's numerous violin cadenzas, representing the storyteller, also functioning as a unifying motif. An older musician might display a broader range of expression, especially in the intimate direction, but the audience responded to Southorn's drama, command, and beauty of tone with hearty shouts of 'bravo' during the concertmaster's many bows at the conclusion.

Similar command was shown by my longtime colleague, bassoonist Jon Gaarder, whose pacing and virtuosity were just terrific. Charles Salinger's clarinet and Kim Reighley's flute sounded as lovely and apt as they always do, and Stephanie Wilson, taking the principal oboe role, made a strong impression every time she entered. I can tell you that for double reed players, who generally make their own reeds, the mark of having a good night on stage is having a good reed. Stephanie, nice reed!! Trumpeter Brian Kuszyk, wow, what triple tonguing. And those solos for second trombone, bravo Richard Linn. There was plenty for both first and second horn, bravi Karen Schubert and Lisa Dunham. And thank you, Doug McNames, for those particularly generous glissandos on the 'cello.

Amado and all the strings deserve high praise for the third movement, The Young Prince and Princess. The sound was lush and the ultra-romantic interpretation was remarkably complex, and everyone managed to do it together! One colleague I missed is cymbal-player Tom Blanchard. Rimsky, like many Russian composers, wrote a lot for the cymbals, and Blanchard is a player who can actually build a phrase with this crashing instrument. I like a loud cymbal, but the substitute last night tended to just play loud.

It was indeed a very beautiful concert with an especially large and vocal audience, a terrific launch to the new season by The Delaware Symphony Orchestra! The next program will be given on October 17 & 19 at The Tatnall School.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Governor Markell Announces 2014 Govenor's Awards for the Arts

Article originates from content borrowed from The full article can be seen here.

The Governor's Award, created by Michael Quattrociocchi of Milford
Governor Jack A. Markell will honor the recipients of the 2014 Governor’s Awards for the Arts at a presentation starting at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, October 6, 2014 at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware. The event, co-chaired by First Lady Carla Markell and Delaware State Arts Council Chair Lise Monty, will include videos celebrating the work of the winners, as well as performances by two young professional Delaware musicians: 2014 Emerging Artist Fellow Matthew Smith (guitar) and 15-year-old Pyerce Lateef Oates (piano). The event is free and open to the public. RSVP required: or 302.577.8278.

“I’m thrilled to join with the Delaware State Arts Council in recognizing the outstanding work of these eight Delaware artists and arts organizations,” said Governor Markell. “Through their art as well as their leadership, education, innovation and advocacy they have had a significant and profound impact on the artistic and cultural life of Delaware.”

The awards are being created by Milford, Delaware artist Michael Quattrociocchi, an award-winning wood craft artisan. “Treasure Box” is an Asian design made of wood with applied panels on front and back. The front and back panels are made of spalted maple in a “Landscape” design reminiscent of the Delaware shore. Landscapes may be a shoreline with fog, marshland scene, or estuary.

Individual Award Winners (alphabetical order):
David Amado • leader
Sharon Baker • independent filmmaker Xiang Gao • innovator
Eunice LaFate • advocate
Evelyn Swensson • lifetime achievement - Peggy Amsterdam Outstanding Achievement Award
Billie Travalini • educator
Organization Award Winners (alphabetical order):
Joshua M. Freeman Foundation • presenting
VSA Delaware • inclusion

The Delaware Division of the Arts is an agency of the State of Delaware. Together with its advisory body, the Delaware State Arts Council, the Division administers grants and programs that support artists and arts organizations, educate the public, increase awareness of the arts, and integrate the arts into all facets of Delaware life. Funding for Division programs is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware State Legislature, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Igor & Elvis...A Pair Not to be Missed!

By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes.

Tuesday evening's Delaware Symphony concert — the second in its elegant chamber music series in the Hotel DuPont's Gold Ballroom — was perhaps the quirkiest ever presented there. It featured bassoonist Jon Gaarder impersonating Elvis, in full regalia, performing composer Michael Daugherty's Dead Elvis, written in 1993 and incorporating the well-known chant for wrath of judgment day, the Dies Irae. As a former DSO bassoonist myself who performed this work in 2008, I took great pleasure in witnessing the whole wacky spectacle from the outside.

Daugherty chose the same instrumentation as Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale, a septet mixture of woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion, the work which comprised the second half of Tuesday's concert. And speaking as primarily a composer now, I can continue to wonder — how did Stravinsky do it? There is a certain thinness in the texture with so few colors from each family of instruments, but this results in a wonderful clarity, a bracing zap to the ear of each instrument's declamation.

Perhaps the most poignant and plaintive movement was the duet for Gaarder's bassoon and Jonathan Troy's clarinet — so few notes and so much expression. The chorales near the end were gorgeous, but how 'bout the romping rhythms of the marches, the ragtime, and other dances? DSO concertmaster David Southorn was brilliant in the athletically demanding violin part; in time his Tango may become even more sly. All this is in the service of a Russian folk tale, a version by Swiss author C. F. Ramuz, originally in French. Conductor David Amado explained how the standard English translation can sound stilted and even boring, and so Amado undertook his own edited revision, very successful to this listener.

I particularly enjoyed the use of lots of rhyming, and also references to our time and place- the soldier marches "between Lums Pond and Bear," and at another point is treated to chicken wings. Three readers told the story: OperaDelaware's Brendan Cooke as the soldier, joined by two Delaware Theater Company executives, Bud Martin as a wittily sarcastic Devil, and Charles Conway as the Narrator. The large audience was uninhibited in both laughter and applause.

For Dead Elvis, Gaarder chose a sparkly white jumpsuit, white shoes, a thick (not really greasy) wig, and giant shades. He sauntered on stage with characteristic Elvis gestures and wiggles, and also smoothed his locks during the music's sudden pregnant pauses. The music is a study in zany extremes, the bassoon screaming to its ultimate high E or plummeting to its grotesque low B-flat. The tiny E-flat clarinet screeches, the trombone wails its glissandi, the drummer, the DSO's veteran master Bill Kerrigan, flails his collection of bells and other high-pitched gadgets.

I highly recommend this most entertaining and musically rewarding show which will be repeated Friday night, January 31 at 7:30 PM at the Queen Theater, World Cafe Live. The next two DSO concerts at the Hotel DuPont are on February 25 and April 1.


Monday, September 30, 2013

The DSO is back…and kicking!

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra boldly began their new 2013-2014 season with a new piece and three exciting works from the standard orchestral repertoire. But nothing is standard about the analysis and pre-concert lectures by Maestro David Amado. His wit, vocabulary and inquisitive mind make his talks on music well worth a hurried supper. He did not disappoint with his thesis that Igor Stravinsky took the theme from Debussy’s Prelude to the afternoon of a faun for his Firebird Suite. The audience and I were perplexed by this comparison of a raucous ritualistic dance being the same as an impressionistic daydream, but on closer examination one can see it. Would that the Maestro had once again let the orchestra open their season with the version of the Star Spangled Banner for which the composer was arrested, but the audience happily sang along for the standard version from the Arthur Luck collection. 

The DSO’s  Music Committee was courageous in choosing a new piece to begin the concert and they made a safe choice: Robert Ward’s Festive Ode is a marvelous mix of extremely well-orchestrated American music which allowed each section of the orchestra to be highlighted and it was a fun homecoming experience. 

Misha Dichter took command of a beautiful Steinway grand which had so much horsepower that he managed to overshadow the orchestra for a while, but pulled back with his sensitive yet untrammeled version of the famous Variation 18.  The percussion section was magically energetic with the dies irae theme, hats off to the glockenspiel! 

Mr. Dichter played a clean, but quietly expressive Claire de Lune as an encore and Maestro Amado and the orchestra surprised him after that by playing Happy Birthday to honor the day.  (Mr. Dichter seemed pleased and surprised by the gesture.)

Mr. Amado had the orchestra illustrate the themes of the Prelude to the afternoon of a faun by Claude Debussy. The soft colors of the orchestra told us that none of the players had lost any luster in the rough and uncertain past year.  The dynamics were so soft, especially with Katy Ambrose’s delicate horn entrance on a whisper. What a woodwind section the DSO has as well!

After the impressionistic pastels came the thunderous Firebird Suite.  The strings outdid themselves with a super soft beginning and eerie harmonics.  The clarinets took the magic jazzy, klezmer lines and played them as if they were easy as pie.  The Infernal dance had that unleashed wildness led by  Donna Battista on piano and some great percussion on xylophone.  Jon Gaarder played a smooth and controlled lullaby solo before the thunderous finale. 

Welcome back to the Grand, Delaware Symphony Orchestra!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Longwood Organ Dedication

Normally we don’t blog non-Delaware events, but since this was a DuPont event just up the road from the Delaware border, it would seem churlish not to write about one of the most affable and accomplished musicians around: Peter Richard Conte, Grand Court Organist for the Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia who played the re-dedication concert on the restored Aeolian symphonic organ before a sold-out crowd including Maestro David Amado, Nathan Hayward and Governor Pete Dupont. (Tickets sold out the day they went on sale in September 2010.)

Staff at Longwood tell me that in the weeks before the concert, Mr. Conte would come to practice after the restoration team had put away their drills late at night and stay for hours – and then would sneak in at the crack of dawn to play some more before the restorers arrived to work on the project, handing the banished musician coffee as a consolation.

But not only did Peter Richard Conte play an incredibly difficult program on Friday, February 4, having carefully prepared exploited as many of the stops and whistles as possible, but he wrote a brief erudite yet humorous introduction for every piece. He had known Firmin Swinnen, the first concert organist in residence who helped design the Aelion symphonic organ. Mr. Conte played some of his works – and made sure a computerized of an actual performance by Mr. Swinnen was featured.

The highlight of the Friday night concert was Mr. Conte’s performance of an incredibly demanding piece composed by Marcel Dupré, who had actually performed it at Longwood. Mr. Conte’s performance of Variations sur un Noël, opus 20, pour grande orgue and his registration of the piece gave it the texture and variety that it deserved.

But I salute Mr. Conte not just for his mastery of music, but for his outstanding affability. He stayed after the concert, was easily approachable and friendly to all – young and old, allowing them to enjoy the experience of knowing a true artist.

He returned in the morning for a more technical demonstration of the organ and answered all questions from young and old with eagerness, humor and respect.

Bravo, Mr. Conte and kudos to Paul Redman for taking the initiative to invest in restoring Longwood to its former elegance.