Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Revival of the DSO

No, it was not the usual Hotel Dupont Gold Ballroom Chamber Series. The champagne was not free, nor were the soft drinks - but the music was first rate.

General Manager Diana Milburn was vigilant – making sure every aspect of the concert went smoothly. She was well-versed about which performers and pieces were in the future chamber concerts. She also made sure there was a beautifully printed program listing the performers and the pieces. On the program was a long list of all of the faithful donors who have been supporting a Delaware Symphony which has not performed since July 4, 2012. If Ms. Milburn has managed to do all of this so quickly, perhaps there will be a chance for the symphony to survive.

And survive it should. The Mozart Divertimento for Strings No. 3, K138 in F Major was as smooth as silk. Violinists Luigi Mazzocchi and Lisa Vaupel, violist Elizabeth Jaffe and cellist Naomi Grey played together as if they had been working together for years. Every phrase and nuance of the Mozart was magically melded with dynamics and articulation falling into place enabling the subtle musical colors to fill the room.

The Beethoven String quartet No. 9, Opus 59, No. 3 is a very complex piece which became a showcase for each of the four players. The rich support of Lisa Vaupel’s violin was so together with Luigi Mazzocchi’s that it was difficult to tell who was playing which line at times. Elizabeth Jaffe’s rich, dark, melodic lines on the viola created an inner voice that made the music rounded and full of harmony. I had heard the former players in chamber concerts, but this was the first time I had an opportunity to hear the amazing virtuosity of cellist Naomi Grey. She had some very difficult passages in the Beethoven which she played as if they were easy. Her tone, intonation, pizzicato and her ability to project were remarkable. This made me realize that there is so much talent in the Delaware Symphony that we just don’t hear individually. What a perfect occasion to do so.

The second half of the concert was much lighter fare for the listener, but certainly not light for the players. The Giacomo Puccini Three Minuets for Strings are really vocal writing and the quartet took this challenge quite lyrically. The Lullaby for string quartet by George Gershwin is a lush arrangement by the composer of a long piano solo piece which had extensive exposed parts for each instrument.

The concert ended with some fun Latin tangos and dances. Luigi Mazzocchi introduced them as dear to his heart and proved it by his energetic playing. The concert was a great taste of what we could have if we continue to support our endangered symphony. Bravi to all the players and to Diana Milburn who has boldly taken on the challenge of righting the ship.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Time travel with Brandywine Baroque

Karen Flint, the artistic director of Brandywine Baroque goes to great lengths to create an authentic program with period instruments in a room small enough to hear baroque instruments, yet large enough to hold about one hundred people. That alone is reason to attend a concert at the Barn at Flintwoods.

Martin Davids and Edwin Huizinga, violins in rehearsal

The minute you sit down, you have the feeling you have travelled in time back to the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is impossible to resist looking at the brilliant colors and detail on the lid, soundboard and edge of the virginal which was the star of the concert. The virginal is actually a one-year-old reproduction by John Phillips, but that does not in any way dilute the intense feeling that you have travelled back in time.

When Ms. Flint started the concert with a solo piece from Elizabeth Rogers’ Virginal Book published in 1657, I was transported to another era. The rich tones and astounding depth of sound from the tiny decorative keyboard instrument were a great surprise. Ms. Flint has an ease of mastery and feel for the keyboard.

The two gamba players, John Mark Rozendaal and Donna Fournier, two violinists playing viol parts, Martin Davids and Edwin Huizinga played both chamber pieces - some of which were wildly complex. A fantasia in c minor by William Lawes was an extremely complex contrapuntal piece which had eccentrically interpolated rhythms.

Donna Fournier and John Mark Rozendaal gambas

Laura Heimes, soprano and Tony Boutté, tenor sing baroque styles with such purity and clarity and have such technical mastery of the style that they are able to really portray a song with gesture, humor and grace. Ms. Heimes’ singing is always delightful, but when she sings baroque music, her vocal line is pure and simple with minimal vibrato and magical ease on the high notes.

Each of the performers seemed to exude a playfulness and joy in the music that made the entire concert a pleasure. The physical expressions of all the players and singers and their ability to truly touch another style and time made this a moving experience. And the program itself was so beautifully written and researched by Ms. Flint that it became a great ready reference tool for those of us who did not know about the instruments.

After the concert, Ms. Flint was more than ready to show us the instrument and talk about the exquisite illustrations and decorations and where and how it was made.

When concerts are that thoroughly prepared, they change your entire perspective on music.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mėlomanie plays at Immanuel Highlands

The Immanuel Episcopal Church, Highlands has begun a Music at Immanuel program featuring a great fall calendar of performances starting with an evening of Mėlomanie. The program featured a world premiere by guitarist/composer Chris Braddock called Grease in the Groove which was a delightful mix of country music and jazzy sounds for mandolin, twelve-string guitar, harpsichord and cello. Doug McNames, cello, took Braddock’s brash bass line and ran with it, creating a fun and almost washtub effect while Tracy Richardson played a series of delicate scales and arpeggios on the harpsichord. Braddock played his mandolin part which he had made the lead voice dominating the trio. Then he switched to the twelve-string guitar against which he created a very high cello part which took over the dominant voice for the end of the piece — evocative of Scheherazade rather than the country style in which the piece began.

Two baroque pieces introduced each half of the program. The Paris Quartet No. 4 in B Minor, TWV 43: h2 featured Chris Braddock playing an additional continuo to Richardson’s harpsichord and the Concerto No. 3 in D Major by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier which featured Eve Friedman (baroque flute) and Priscilla Smith (baroque oboe). Both pieces were lively and light; not at all out of place with the contemporary pieces on the program.

Mėlomanie also presented excerpts of four pieces they had commissioned in the past decade and invited each composer to speak about his or her piece. Not only was it a treat to have the composers be present for the concert, but it was interesting to compare the acoustics in Immanuel to those of Grace Church.

Violinist Christof Richter
Chuck Holdeman said his Quarter note = 48 was written in 5/4 time to make sure there was no recognizable downbeat, but the impeccable coordination between flutist Kim Reighley and cellist Doug McNames made it seem more strictly laid out than he led us to believe. Ingrid Arauco’s Pavane opened with the harpsichord’s sparkling high register and melted into a fugal resolution picked up by the modern flute, gamba, cello and violin. Mark Hagerty’s Trois Rivières excerpt was very jazzy with a 5/8 meter creating a dance feel which he felt was influenced by his time spent in Brazil.

Flutist Kimberly Reighley

The two excerpts from Kile Smith’s The Nobility of Women were brilliantly played by his daughter Priscilla, for whom he wrote the piece. Her baroque oboe sound is so incredibly smooth that the listener might forget it is a double reed instrument – the baroque oboe being more temperamental even than its prima donna modern cousin. The Sarabande is slow and sad and the oboe voice pierces plumbs the darkness with its soulful sound and the Canarios, which featured all of the Mėlomanie players, was written in a traditional baroque style, yet it still evokes a very swinging and modern dance, especially when the oboe is playing long dotted rhythms over the other voices.

Mėlomanie will continue their residence at Grace Church on Washington Street in January.