The News-Times

Concert Reviews
For The 2003 – 2004 Season

Other Reviews

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday Nov. 2nd

Danbury Concert Chorus, Sunday Nov. 16th

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday Dec. 7th

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet, Dec. 12, 13, & 14
not reviewed because of Sunday snow storm

Handel's Messiah, Sunday Dec. 21st

Young People's Concert, Sunday Feb. 8th

Larry Deming and Friends, Saturday Feb. 21st

Duo Vocalists, Mar. 13th

DSO, From Russia with Love, Sunday Mar. 21st

DCO, Overtures and Beginnings, Sunday, May 2nd

Haydn, The Seasons, Saturday, May 8th

DSO, Concert on the Green, Saturday, June 19th

Danbury Symphony opens Summertime Festival

By Jim Pegolotti

Carly Kulawitz Carly Kulawitz, a clarinetist and 2004 competition winner, made her Danbury orchestral debut when the Danbury Symphony Orchestra kicked off the 2004 Summertime Festival on Saturday on the CityCenter Green. Carly was presented by David Katz, who was taking part in his final concert as the orchestra's music director.

DANBURY - The 2004 Summertime Festival began Saturday evening on the CityCenter Green with a highly enjoyable concert by the Danbury Symphony Orchestra. With sponsorship by Union Savings Bank, "Pops for a Summer Night" initiated Danbury's series of weekend music; it also was the final concert of David Katz as the orchestra's music director. He has resigned the post to provide more time for a host of other musical ventures.

The spacious lawn area was nearly filled with people, who had seen a muggy summer morning turn into a magnificently bright and crisp summer evening. Katz, as he had done in last year's first summer "pops" concert, presented a clever program of patriotic, Broadway, and movie tunes, plus works by regional composers. Appropriately, since he had helped advance the concept of the symphony's Youth Concerto Competition, Katz also presented Carly Kulawitz, a clarinetist and the 2004 competition winner, in her Danbury orchestral debut.

In today's amplified world, an outdoor, unamplified concert needs real concentration both from performer and listener, but it's well worth it because the purity of the orchestral music comes through untainted. However, it would have helped to have the brass and woodwinds on risers toward the back of the stage. John Williams' "Olympic Fanfare," the vibrant program opener, would thus have been a bit more stirring. (You'll be hearing this fanfare plenty soon from Athens, Greece.)

Katz has a real talent for positive interactions with the audience, as exemplified in getting some 300 lawn-dwellers to whistle during certain parts of the "Colonel Bogey March," made famous in the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai." In an amusing sight gag during the musical highlight of the evening - tunes from the Disney movie "Mary Poppins" several orchestra members suddenly sported enormous gold-sequined Mickey Mouse ears.

So-called "pops" concerts don't usually provide great musical insights, but one did occur to me after listening to the symphony play medleys from "Sound of Music" (Richard Rodgers) and "Phantom of the Opera" (Andrew Lloyd Webber). Here's my insight: Webber's music can't hold a candle to Rodgers'. (Yes, I still believe that Broadway musicals should place music above spectacle.)

As always, having a young musician share her considerable musical talents with an audience brings joy to any music lover. So it was in Carly Kulawitz's performance of the joyful first movement of the "Clarinet Concerto No. 3 in B Flat" by Karl Stamitz, a contemporary of Mozart. He wrote in an elegant classical style and Kulawitz, with her brisk, fluid playing, seemed much at home in this musical era.

Her poise was tested when applause sprang unexpectedly at the false ending prior to the beginning of her solo cadenza. But Kulawitz, nonplused and patient in her beautiful pink gown, waited a few seconds, then tossed off the cadenza with ease. After applause at the conclusion, her teacher Kathryn Taylor came on stage and together they gave a delicious performance of Leroy Anderson's "Clarinet Candy." It was perpetual motion on two clarinets.

The cleverest touch of programming came in grouping compositions by three "local" composers: Danbury's Charles Ives, Carmel's Paul Garofalo, and Woodbury's Leroy Anderson. Before conducting Ives' "Circus Band March," Katz reminded the audience that this July 4th will be the 30th anniversary of Danbury's biggest-ever musical event - the all-Ives orchestral concert held at the Danbury Fairgrounds, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Paul Garofalo's "On a Lovely Summer Day" was lovingly played. It has a charming carousel-like melody, which then transforms into something one step removed from a Neapolitan love song. To complete the musical troika of "local" composers, the orchestra successfully raced through Leroy Anderson's "Home Stretch," one of the lesser known of his orchestral miniatures.

Early in the program the orchestra acknowledged the debt owed our servicemen by performing "Armed Forces Salute." Katz asked veterans to stand when their service song was played. They did, with many in rigid attentiveness, an honor to their corps. The lively concert ended with Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Throughout the concert, the Danbury Symphony played with spirit and correctness. Prior to the final piece, Katz told the audience how much he admired the members of the orchestra for their musical abilities and dedication; he acknowledged the pleasure he had had conducting them over two years.

Indeed, I agree that the orchestra is a community treasure. Hopefully the summer "pops," which Katz has helped bring to life, will continue. Wouldn't it be nice if the "pops" could be the opening concert of every summers music festival on the Danbury green?


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'Seasons' challenges chorus and orchestra

By Jim Pegolotti

DANBURY – The Danbury Concert Chorus and the Danbury Symphony joined forces Saturday evening to present the oratorio "The Seasons" by Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809), a major work, yet seldom performed. It was sung in English and conducted by David Katz, the music director of the symphony. A goodly crowd of pre-Mother's Day celebrants attended the performance in Ives Concert Hall at Western Connecticut State University.

Interestingly, for both music directors – Richard Price of the chorus and Katz of the orchestra – this concert came at the end of their second season as conductors. The musical results they've displayed in previous concerts of their individual groups have been quite positive. My expectations were high and though overall the results were satisfactory, I do have some quibbles.

To program such a major work presents a challenge to all participants, but particularly the orchestra, which during the spring season had to prepare two other complete concerts. The chorus, on the other hand, has the entire season to prepare. It seemed to me that the orchestra's shaky beginning in "Spring," the first of the four sections, points to that very issue: not having enough time for rehearsing a work two hours in length.

For the orchestra, performing "The Seasons" is like playing four successive Haydn symphonies. His music needs a clarity and precision that has not been part of this orchestra's recent experience, honed as it has been recently on romantic and 20th century music. It wasn't that the orchestra played poorly; it didn't. There just wasn't the briskness and charm of Haydn.

The chorus, generally secure and ever on pitch, needed more male singers for perfect balance, and suffered from its placement far back on the Ives Concert Hall stage. There it often needed more energy in its projection to surmount the large orchestra, which occupied the front portion of the stage.

In addition to the chorus, Haydn uses three soloists for recitatives and arias to advance the story of each season. The singers represent peasants and their words dwell on the various aspects of the seasons. They sing of the planting of the crops, disrupting storms, and the gathering of the grapes for wine making.

The soloists were Anne Dreyer, soprano, Sean Fallen, tenor, and Erik Kroncke, bass, all winners in the Friedrich Schorr vocal competition. Dreyer was the most relaxed, and as a result her voice sparkled beautifully throughout all the soprano range. Fallen, who of the three had the clearest enunciation, showed a strong lyric voice. Kroncke's voice was particularly pleasant in the mid-range.

That brings me to words. Unfortunately neither the soloists nor the chorus articulated sufficiently to assure that the audience gained at least a modicum of what was being sung. One is willing to overlook something like this if the language isn't English, but in this case it was.

If these observations seem to be a bit unfair, perhaps only if the audience is provided with the full text (with auditorium lights at sufficient intensity to read) can appropriate understanding be achieved. But understanding the words also adds much to the enjoyment of the music. A lot of what Haydn wrote for the orchestra is a musical translation of the text. As an example, in the summer section the tenor sings, "The quail calls his mate," and there is a clever birdcall effect in the orchestra.

Not withstanding, there were some very fine parts to the performance. The second half of the program (I moved downstairs from the balcony) seemed better balanced between orchestra and chorus. Praise must be given to hornists Nancy Sudik and Michael Lipham for their exciting and lengthy call to the hunt in the autumn section. For the final autumn chorus, "Joyful the liquor flows" (can it be other than wine?) the orchestra and chorus were totally successful.

Haydn concluded his work, after several hours of praising nature, by turning to God and offering a heartfelt "Amen" for the joys of the seasons. It must be stated that Katz at this point pulled out one of the most effective endings of any performance in recent memory, a glorious meshing of orchestra and chorus. Some say it isn't how you start, but how you end. If that be the case, it was a wonderful performance.


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Local orchestra impresses with Schubert symphony

By Howard Tuvelle

Great anticipations come with new beginnings, as there is something pristine about newness - births, for example, and the hope of what's to grow from such beginnings.

It was interesting, then, that Stephen Michael Smith, the new director and conductor of the Danbury Community Orchestra, chose to entitle his premier program "Overtures and Beginnings." Overtures are, in fact, beginnings of larger works, so was this the beginning of the beginnings?

The concert took place on Sunday at Ives Hall, and it was a varied program of sections from other works. The opening selection, the "Overture from Music for the Royal Fireworks, " by G. F. Handel (1685-1759), employed much brass. It was a good choice, with its fanfare and heroic style. The orchestra's brass section was effective and right on target. It seemed a call-to-arms and to indicate: here we are, now listen!

Listen we did, to the dark and introspective first movement of the "Symphony in B Minor, D 739 (the Unfinished)," by F. Schubert (1797-1828). In many respects, it was the most effective and impressive offering of the day. Orchestral balances were in place, dynamics were carefully scaled, and all sections of the orchestra were in sync. Impressive as well, and throughout the day, was the woodwind section, but congratulations to every member of the orchestra.

After the Schubert, conductor Smith took to the microphone and announced the day's soloist: violinist Scott Tanner. A graduating senior at Barlow High School in Redding, he is relinquishing his position as concertmaster to pursue studies at Swarthmore College.

Tanner's featured work was the "Romance in F Major, Op. 50," by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). His performance was controlled and somewhat cautious, rendering his tone a bit thin. He might have "played out" more, perhaps, but it was a musical rendering and he acquitted himself with honor. The orchestra provided a sensitive accompaniment and Tanner won the moment!

After much applause, the program continued with the "Introduction and Bridal Chorus," from Act III of Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). The Stephen Smith Singers, founded by the conductor, joined the orchestra. The Bridal Chorus has become such a musical icon in our culture and played in so many ways, it was refreshing to hear the original. Both chorus and orchestra were excellent.

There were further pieces on the program by two British composers, employing just the strings and then the wind instruments. These were effectively played. The program concluded with the beginning - oops, no, the "Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla," an opera by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857). The piece utilizes much brass with sweeping string passages up and down the tonal range. It seemed at times the brass was a trifle too heavy, but it could have been my location in the hall. The orchestra was in splendid form.

Bravo and shouts ensued for both conductor Smith and the orchestra: an impressive overture, no, beginning for both.


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Orchestra tackles tour de force

By Howard Tuvelle

The Danbury Symphony Orchestra devoted last Sunday's concert to three Russian composers: Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Serge Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

The program was entitled "From Russia with Love."

Opening with Tchaikovsky's familiar "Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74," the orchestra seemed challenged. But then, what orchestra wouldn't be?

The symphony - the music itself - is a veritable tour de force for any ensemble. It is also rapturously "romantic" in every sense of the word. The composer first titled it "A Program Symphony," - that is, inspired by some non-musical source. He wrote to a friend "It is full of subjective emotion, and composing it I frequently cried." He went on, "a program, but… of a sort that remains enigmatic to everyone - let them guess it who can." He later changed the name to "Pathetic," perhaps in brooding over some misfortunes of his own life, which ended shortly thereafter.

Sunday's performance, if not all the mechanics were functioning at peak level, still had its glorious moments. The orchestra never lacked thrust or vitality, and it was a thoroughly honest reading.

After intermission came the featured artist, pianist Miko Kominami, in Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini," (is that enough of a name for you?) The pianist is on the faculty of Luther College, Iowa.

The piano first joins the orchestra with single notes, but soon, however, Rachmaninoff's 15-fingered piano writing gradually encompasses the full range of the keyboard. The pianist had no trouble managing the composer's demands, and sitting erect she played with ease and no trace of stiffness. Her full tone carried the entire hall.

The Rhapsody is a series of variations on a Paganini melody, or theme. The beauty of the 18th variation is now world famous. It came as a surprise, however, in this performance. Its five-note rhythm seemed distorted by the last three notes unduly rushed. With the orchestra's able support, though a wee bit heavy-laden at times, both pianist and conductor brought the work to an exciting and rousing finish.

The piano of the day was the university's Bosendorfer. Let it be said that the instrument never sounded better! The bass was rich and the treble clear and full-rounded. The instrument must be in very good hands, on and off stage!

After Kominami's fine performance was justly applauded, the concert concluded with Shostakovich's short "Festive Overture, op. 96" - and festive it was. Composed in the 1950s after the death of Stalin, it must have been a sort of celebration. After a demanding program the orchestra now seemed to be enjoying itself. Here it was plainly at its best. The Overture was tossed off with buoyant self-assurance, bringing the day's concert to a near frenetic climax.

It was a salubrious success for the musicians of the day, and this, from at least one non-Russian listener, "with love"!


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N.J. musical friends entertain in Danbury

By Jim Pegolotti

DANBURY - Three friends from New Jersey brought a pleasant evening of music to the Danbury Music Centre on Saturday night.

Victoria Gordziel, mezzo-soprano, Regina Brown, soprano, and Jean Rauch, piano, have been musical amici for years. Gordziel moved to Danbury a year ago and joined the Danbury Concert Chorus. She then convinced her Jersey friends to join her here for a sentimental journey of friendship through music.

A full house in the Marian Anderson Recital Hall greeted the elegantly gowned women, with the two singers coming to their music stands "up close and personal" to the audience. Informality immediately permeated the event, both in the jovial patter as well as the use of bejeweled water bottles, from which the singers occasionally took draughts.

Though not professionally trained, the sopranos presented voices of fine quality. In duets their voices blended seamlessly. Their main strengths lay in the mid-range of their voices.

A religious theme permeated the first half of the program. Best was the duet "Laudamus te" from Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria." A clever piece of programming presented two versions of "Pie Jesu" ("Blessed Jesus") from distinctly different "Requiems," those of the Frenchman Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) and the contemporary Englishman Andrew ("Cats" and "Phantom") Lloyd Webber. I would have appreciated the two versions presented sequentially to allow a clearer comparison of stylistic differences.

The first half ended outside the religious vein with the "Comic Duet of Two Cats" by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868). Clearly the great Italian opera composer was satirizing two of his battling prima donnas with his clever vocal hijinks, all on the single repeated word "Meow." Complete with feline theatricalities, Gordziel and Brown purred with backyard elegance. Coming after six religious works, this was entertaining, but a bit jarring. Perhaps in future programs the cat duet should be considered as an encore.

The second half of the program consisted mainly of popular songs, with the performers now in more informal clothing.

"Sentimental Journey" set the mood, as pianist Rauch joined in for an Andrew Sisters-like rendition, a cappella. Next, Gordziel, sartorially enhanced by a flowing, flaming red boa, sang "And All That Jazz," proving that she was ready for Chicago big-time.

Johannes Brahms' witty "Die Schwestern" ("The Sisters"), not exactly a popular song, found itself uniquely placed between "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin and "Lullaby" by Billy Joel, the latter beautifully sung by Brown. The "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" duet from "West Side Story" brought the musical evening to a rather melodramatic end. Throughout the program pianist Rauch accompanied with panache.

Everyone had a good time, but none more so than Gordziel, Brown, and Rauch, who thanked the audience profusely for this unique opportunity.


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Music of various cultures by Deming and Friends

By Howard Tuvelle

In a program entitled "The Greatest Show On Earth,” the Danbury Music Centre presented "Larry Deming and Assorted Friends,” in a program as musically assorted as his friends! It was also as distorted, as was any attempt to follow the contorted printed program! "The following is not necessarily in concert order,” was printed at the top. How true it was!

Deming, however, briefly introduced each selection with a few remarks, while those attending scampered about to find it on the printed program.  The only traditional composer represented was J. S. Bach (1685-1750). Mostly the program was a pastiche of the world’s musical cultures: Middle Eastern belly dance music, music from Turkey, Greece, Japan and Thailand, and a free-for-all improvisation for percussion and "other instruments.” There was also music composed by Deming, such as "Toy Piano,” in which he actually played the toy instrument.

It was more an evening of fun with music rather than any serious striving to present "high art.” Even the prelude from Bach’s "Suite in G,” for unaccompanied cello, admirably played by Judith Smith, was accompanied and embellished by the violin and what appeared to be a five-string bass guitar. Oh, the program also indicated "multiple instruments.” Well, with the Bach, certainly multiple strings!

There were different and not often heard instruments, even cello-tapping. Another Deming composition, entitled "Mr. Dumbeck to You,” began with "friend” Jordan Jancz thumping on his cello. Other instruments heard during the evening were the chimes, cymbals, djembe, gong, kalinka, metal pedalophone, talking drum, Bulgarian tambura and xafoon

Spontaneity was the call of the evening, as Deming admitted some of the selections had received limited rehearsing. There was a percussion improvisation where audience members were invited to join the ensemble. Some little girls happily volunteered, and David Smith, percussionist and WestConn professor, came forward. What ensued was an interesting but rather mystical maze of percussive sonorities, ending in a somewhat whimpering pianissimo.

Those gathered under the bright lights of the hall applauded appropriately, feeling like integral partners in the center - and only ring - of this "greatest show.”

No, the lions and tigers did not come next!

Instead, it was a join-in or sing-along, with the all too familiar "Amazing Grace.” People seemed to enjoy this, but admittedly it lacked that religious fervor which might have made the evening more of a "happening.”

All in all, it was an interesting program. Perhaps had the educational aspects been more carefully addressed and delineated to the audience, the program would have been, to some, more redeeming.

Nevertheless, the evening was a veritable Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey bag full of delightful ethnic musical morsels, and Deming, with friends, assorted or not, but all tried, tested and true musicians in the area, were greatly enjoyed by one and all. 

But where was the cotton candy?


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Pianist and dancers earn bravos

By Jim Pegolotti

DANBURY - The world was made to be won by youth, wrote Winston Churchill. Indeed, at Sunday’s Young People’s Concert by the Danbury Symphony this was proven by three impressively talented young people: 13-year-old pianist Remy Zhang, a winner in the Music Centre’s student competition, and Jessica Cipriano and Roddy Doble, dancers, both 14 years old. Their talent had won them the right to be on stage, and they won the hearts of the hundreds of people present in Ives Concert Hall, many of them young as well.

David Katz, the symphony’s music director, wisely chose the theme "Gotta Dance” for the program. Works by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Johann Strauss, Jr. were given sprightly readings, but more of that later.

Zhang’s performance of the first movement of Robert Schumann’s "Piano Concerto in A Minor,” was in the middle of the program. The short, thin teenager walked confidently from the wings. Once seated, he gave a quick nod to Katz to precipitate the dramatic orchestral chord that sets the concerto on its way. No one had to wait more than the five seconds it took Zhang to play those first measures - strong chords descending down the keyboard --to know that this young man had talent to spare.

To many, the Schumann work is the quintessential romantic piano concerto. All aspects of a pianist are called into play, such as sensitivity to beautiful themes, octave runs that are bold but not forced, and arching arpeggios performed with a light touch.

Zhang’s performance evidenced all these and more. The cadenza was dramatic, but not falsely so, and the trills that accompanied the left hand’s melody were gentle and accurate. It was an admirable performance. And most importantly, Zhang, Katz, and the orchestra were at one with each other. The balance between piano and orchestra was absolutely right throughout.

The dancers performed at the end of the lengthy program. Space had to be provided onstage for Cipriano and Doble to interpret Strauss’ "Emperor Waltz” in classical ballet mode. To do this, the orchestra’s strings were moved into the pit area; the brass and woodwinds were placed opposite each other toward the front of the stage.

Like so many Strauss concert waltzes, the composition begins in elegant march time. As the music soared to an introductory dramatic peak, Doble leaped onto the stage in athletically graceful bounds, there to await Cipriano, who arrived with firm turns en pointe. The storyline chosen by choreographer Doble portrayed him as the lovesick youth, taunted by a coquettish Cipriano. Their actions melded to the music’s ebb and flow. Indeed their hand and leg movements were beautifully coordinated to the music.

When the waltz came to its triumphant end with its emphatic orchestral chords, the dancers’ synchronous leaps were a joy to behold. There was no scenery and no atmospheric lighting; it was pure and unadulterated talent that was exposed. And the talent we saw was simply remarkable for the age of these dancers.

The orchestra opened the program with two short works. Charles Ives’ "Circus Band March” was given appropriate bounce, with clear statements of the Danbury native’s expected disjunctive rhythms. "Hoe Down,” from Aaron Copland’s ballet, "Rodeo,” needed a bit more punch, having a tentativeness that more rehearsal time would have removed.

The orchestral tour de force was Bernstein’s "Symphonic Dances” from "West Side Story.” With their brisk and wildly alternating rhythms, it was a challenge for the orchestra, and one well met. There was deep attention on the faces of the musicians, and extra energy in the podium actions of Katz. (Sharper eyes than mine would probably have discovered more than a few extra beads of perspiration.) Orchestras grow in abilities with such musical tests. Bernstein’s is American music both at its wildest and most tender, and the orchestra proved it could face that music - and dance.


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Music Centre’s ‘Messiah’ thrills audience at church
By Howard Tuvelle

The Danbury Concert Chorus and Baroque Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Richard Price, presented the well-known "Messiah,” by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759). The performance at St. Peters church last Sunday evening was notable for its sensitivity and lyricism. The sanctuary was filled and the Gothic-like columns each had a wreath with red ribbon.

What is the magnetism of the Messiah? Over nearly half a century this reviewer has heard the complete work many times, as well as incomplete and in parts, and must say that Sunday’s performance allowed the composer’s music to reign above any gesture to "sell” it to the audience. It was free from any attempt to make it glitzy or more commercially palatable.

Take the popular "Hallelujah” chorus for example: there was no belting-it-out, no tympani bombs bursting, and no feigned heroics. The music and voices were enough. The power of the music spewed forth with its own majesty. As is the tradition the audience rose to its feet.

After the opening "Overture,” tenor Michael Steinberger sang the first recitative, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” His mellifluous and lyrical voice was a delightful surprise. Conductor Price was sensitive to the balance between the ensemble and soloist. Indeed, the conductor’s effusive style effectively sustained the right balances throughout the entire evening.

Walter Du Melle was the next soloist. His rich and resonating bass voice, even during difficult melismatic passages (extending one syllable over many pitches), was never garbled, but always clear and expressive.

One of the hallmarks of the entire performance was the splendid enunciation of the soloists and chorus.

Those who know the Messiah naturally have their favorite parts. One that is especially enchanting was "O thou that tellest,” exquisitely sung with the chorus by mezzo-soprano, Sharon Gordon.

Soprano Laura Danehower Whyte’s beautifully wrought nuances were demonstrated throughout her many solos and in the aria "Come unto Him.”

There were many such passages in the long work by all the soloists that were impressive. Not only are their credentials impeccable, but so were their voices as well.

The seasoned musicians of chorus and ensemble supporting them gave an exacting performance of high musicality.

Lest this review seem too laudatory, one might have wished more verve or thrust from the male singers. This, however, is a minor observation in view of their otherwise splendid singing.

The Messiah is long. During one performance it is said the English king was the first to rise to his feet during the Hallelujah chorus. After all, he had been sitting for two and a half hours and probably had a circulatory problem! Now his condition has become a tradition!

At the conclusion of this massive work of – well, genius, the performers were given a standing and exuberant ovation complete with shouts. This was definitely not a circulatory condition, nor even a tradition, but an admission of their gratitude for an evening of honest music making of glorious proportions.

When music of this ilk is combined with a text of words that to many express the highest hopes for mankind, it is no wonder the Messiah has become a staple and fixture during the holiday season.


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Community orchestra gives holiday program

By Howard Tuvelle

A very important concert was presented last Sunday in Ives Concert Hall, on WestConn's campus. It was a performance by the Danbury Community Orchestra, with guest conductor Christopher James Hisey. The conductor of the Bridgeport Youth Orchestra, he is also director and co-founder of the American Chamber Orchestra in Westport.

A program obviously intended to reflect the festiveness of the season was entitled: "Holidays and Suites" (or sweets!). It began with a holiday, the "Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36," by Rimsky-Korsakoff (1844-1908). The work, in quite often the darker minor mode, perhaps reveals that the Russians must be serious about this holiday. The brass and tympani were often prominent. Hisey's conducting showed a certain precision and exactness in his interpretation and direction of the players. In this work and what followed, "Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46," by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), if the strings were not often as strong as they might have been, they always rose to the occasion when the music began to soar and intensify. Excitement can produce wonders!

It was after the "Pause," (not intermission) and in the "Carmen Suite No. 1," by Georges Bizet (1838-1875), that some first-chair instrumentalists got a chance to play solos. All acquitted themselves with musical integrity and accuracy.

The program ended with a potpourri of interwoven holiday carols, in the imaginative and delightful "Christmas Festival," by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). This was the other holiday between the sweet Suites!

And so, just WHAT makes this concert any more important than any other?

Reviewers are generally mandated to report on a performance, to describe and offer, perhaps, a perspective on it. Well, most of the description has been done, so here's my perspective:  . . . in many ways the community orchestra is an extension of the people in a community.

In Danbury it comes from a long and honored tradition called "amateurism." As the music poured forth from the stage filled with young people, adults and even senior adults, all sharing in the creative act of music-making, one thought of how so many in other communities around the country have surrendered this honored privilege to those of the imported "professional." The term "amateur" has come to mean a sort of dabbler who is not much respected. It should be restored, however, to its honored place as meaning those who love music and perform it, who support it and make possible the "professional," and without whom, or such tradition, there would be no audience or need for the "pro"!

That makes Danbury's community orchestra and its sponsoring Music Centre unique. They keep alive a tradition that prospered in the days of Danbury's George Ives (1845-1894), the composer Charles Ives' father, and are continuing it in the present. Amateur music making, in orchestras, bands and other combinations, sparked the fertile imagination of a child (George's son,) who developed the most sophisticated composing techniques of the 20th century - worldwide! His ideas evolved from this local amateur tradition and are now influencing composers of the 21st century!

The soloists in Bizet's "Aragonaise," the "Intermezzo" and other movements of the Carmen Suite, infused their playing with the energy of the moment. As "Les Toreadors" brought the Carmen Suite to its finale (without Carmen I am sorry to report!) if you dared listen too closely to the notes or the technique of their delivery, you might have just missed the music, itself!

What say? Yes, the real music, that is. The sound of it was wonderful to hear, but the "real" music was among all those on stage and in the orchestra, in what they were doing together.

This is what the composer Ives meant also about the act of playing music, when he wrote that its future may be more about the  . . . "way it encourages,  . . . extends, rather than limits, the aspirations and ideals of  . . . people  . . . and makes itself a part of the finer things humanity does and dreams of."

The Danbury Community Orchestra is emphatically one of those "finer things."


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Chorus satisfies large audience at Danbury’s St. Peter Church
By Jim Pegolotti

An audience of some 400 persons nearly filled St. Peter Church on Sunday afternoon to hear the Danbury Concert Chorus in "Music for a Great Space.” The chorus, now in its second year under Richard Price’s directorship, is clearly revitalized. Not only was the music wonderful to hear, but also the audience received a lesson in good programming. The church organ, expertly played by British-born Ben Woodward, and the Danbury Symphony Brass, who have never sounded better, accompanied the chorus.

After a rousing "Star Spangled Banner,” where Woodward pulled out all the stops, Price then led the first Danbury performance of the unfinished "Mass in A Minor” by Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901), a little known German composer. But he had a definite connection to Danbury: he taught Yale’s Horatio Parker, who then taught Charles Ives.

The "Kyrie, Gloria,” or "Agnus Dei” of the Mass revealed a composer deep into lyrical romanticism. It was pleasant music, sung with beauty of tone, but the music didn’t seem to have any personality. Even the Gloria never seemed to be very glorious. This was the fault of the composer, not the chorus.

Two versions followed of "O Magnum Mysterium,” a popular Latin text that extols the wonder of the birth of Christ. The double chorus version by Giovanni Gabrielli (1553-1612) provided a fine example of the antiphonal music that Gabrielli produced for the massive Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice. Contemporary American composer Morton Lauridsen’s "Mysterium” proved intriguing, moving from a quiet beginning to a more complex center, including a little dissonance, and a highly dramatic climax before the music died away.

If I might make a Santa Claus wish for the chorus, it would be for him to bring more men into the group. This absence showed up noticeably in the men’s solo portion of that great arrangement of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Peter Wilhousky. (The Mormon Tabernacle Choir made this one famous.) This ended the first half of the program with a flourish.

Price opened the program’s second half with glorious chorales for chorus and brass. In both "O Maria, Diana Stella,” from 15th century Italy, and "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” from J. S. Bach’s "Cantata 147,” the brass and chorus were in perfect balance. (Price wrote the effective brass arrangements.) The chorus sang beautifully in these works.

Next, Price sent his 70 choristers out single file, filling the peripheral aisles of the church to sing "Regle (Forest),” a traditional Polish folk song. Judith Cook Tucker, with the perfect alto "earth mother” voice, sang from a side altar as if high on a mountain. From throughout the church came sounds of echoes, sometimes murmurs, sometimes words.

Quite an unforgettable musical experience.

The concert closed with "Christmas Cantata (Sinfonia Sacra),” a work by a still composing young man of 80, the New Englander Daniel Pinkham. (Yes, his family’s money came from that famous 19th century herbal medicine purveyed by "Lydia Pinkham.”)

Each of the three movements differs in musical style, each nicely formulated by Price. The first is a bouncy, full-voiced version of a shepherd song in praise of the child Jesus. The second, another "O Magnum Mysterium,” pits a solo trumpet against women’s voices as they seek an answer to this mystery.

Then, in "Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” Pinkham pays homage to the Venetian Gabrielli in wonderful Renaissance dance rhythms, brilliant in its form, and splendid in its execution by the chorus, brass, and organ. It was a wonderful concert, and a deeply grateful audience showed that with its hearty applause.

Let it be noted that Price’s decision to conduct from a high podium in the center aisle is both an advantage to the chorus, as well as everyone in the large church. After all part of the enjoyment of a choral concert is to see the body language of the conductor -and it’s a joy to watch Price. He sends his enthusiasm into each and every singer by his cues and arm movements. Now if only most of the chorus would look at the conductor more often to see that energy coming their way. It would certainly help them go from an excellent chorus to a superior one.


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Organ, Danbury Symphony make for powerful show

By Howard Tuvelle

The organ, called the "King of Instruments,” and the king of ensembles, the orchestra, came together on a grand scale last Sunday in St. Peters church. Stephen Roberts, organist, and Maestro David Katz, conductor of the Danbury Symphony, brought their musicianship together in one of the most electrifying music-making, sonically soaring performances any music lover or reviewer is apt to experience.

The concert opened with the familiar "Lohengrin: Introduction to Act III,” by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). This is an attention-getter. The orchestra’s brass section was in fine fettle. This reading had all the verve, thrust and heroics Wagner intended.

What is noticed about the orchestra under Katz’s tutelage is its ever widening dynamic range. Precision in theme entrances and sectional balances are also right on target. It is an ensemble with an upbeat (no pun intended) personality and plenty of energy.

The second work on the program was the "Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani,” by French composer, Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). A one-movement piece of many moods, it had lyrical lingering themes and riveting clashes of harmony that produced powerful climaxes.

A work of many styles within itself, even almost slinky bordello music at times – of a French nature, of course – this often rapturously cacophonous work proved to be a total and unsuspected delight. In it, organist Roberts was impressive. The orchestra showed its capacity to play in a variety of dynamic levels with considerable attention to subtle details. The organ filled the cathedral-like church with the grandeur of its sound, and the near-capacity audience might have imagined themselves in Notre Dame.

After a brief intermission came the piece de resistance, again French: the "Symphony No. 3 in C Minor,” by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), known as the "Organ Symphony.”

Although wondering how the Poulenc Concerto could be surpassed, both in execution and scope, the Saint-Saens nevertheless had the advantage of employing the entire orchestra with the organ. In this multitudinous and "moodinous” many-faceted work, the orchestra was superb.

Beginning with a mere whisper of sound, the composer erects a monumental edifice of astonishing musical magnitude. The organ is here used as just another instrument of the orchestra, yet an "honored guest.”

Strong rhythms of almost martial quality, lyricism with delicate string pizzicato, difficult cross rhythms, this symphony gradually unfolds to its full splendor much like a fall morning sunrise fully risen.

Finally it happened. All the organ and musical stops were pulled out. Orchestra and organist were soaring. In this grand and compelling symphony there was an explosion of human energy and music-making, the likes of which rarely happens. The pews rumbled, the church quaked, and the statuary perked up and took notice.

The musicians, always in control as they must be, flawlessly seemed to let the music have reign. It surged to the last grand note with the audience leaping and shouting to its feet with a roaring applause fully deserved.

In one word to all the musicians: Magnificent! — give us more (or is that four words?)


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