News-Times Online

Concert Reviews
For The 2004 – 2005 Season

Past Reviews

Deming String Quartet, Saturday Oct. 9th

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday Nov. 7th

Danbury Concert Chorus, Sunday Nov. 14th

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday Dec. 5th

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet, Dec. 10, 11, & 12

Händel's Messiah, Sunday Dec. 19th

Young People's Concert, Sunday Feb. 6th

Danbury Symphony: Top notch performance, Sunday Mar. 20th

DCO, DPSO, Young musicians impressive , Sunday, April 17th

Brahms' Requiem, Saturday, May 7th

DSO, Concert on the Green, Saturday, June 18th

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Retro music kicks off festival

By Jim Pegolotti
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CORRESPONDENT
2005-06-24

DANBURY — A tradition may have begun. For the second year in a row, the Danbury Symphony Orchestra kicked off the CityCenter Danbury Summertime Festival on the Danbury Green — a program presented by Union Savings Bank. Entitled "Retro Pops Concert," it brought music of the 1950s and 1960s, which was performed to the obvious enjoyment of a crowd of some 200 people. The conductor was Kurt Anderson, son of Leroy Anderson, a composer whose musical miniatures were a special part of those years and of this program.

The program was cleverly devised. To establish the time frame of the music, sprinkled throughout the two-hour program were the recorded sounds of television commercials. Even before the first downbeat, the voice of Dinah Shore started the musical festivities as she urged her listeners to "See the U. S. A. in your Chevrolet." (How times have changed. Today she might sing: "See the U. S. A., in your Honda, Toyota, or maybe Hyundai.")

With 25 different works performed in this retro concert, the more energetic pieces (read "loudest") came through best, since the amplification was just on the edge of sufficient (at least from halfway back on the green). Thus, Leroy Anderson's "Bugler's Holiday," emerged loud and clear, illustrating the excellence of the Symphony's trumpeters, but "Plink, Plank, Plunk," a piece for subtle pizzicato strings, could hardly be heard, partly because of the sounds of motorcyclists, who ironically happened to arrive at this particular time to savor the music.

Anderson, the conductor, often provided interesting tidbits about the music. For example, before leading the symphony in the "Estudiantina Waltz" by the 19th century French composer, Emile Waldteufel, he pointed out that the musical jingle "My beer is Rheingold, the Dry Beer!" employed that waltz tune, which had been composed by a wine-loving Frenchman.

Becca Anderson, with a fine, warm voice in a cabaret style, joined the orchestra to sing three songs that took listeners back in time. These also reminded the listeners of the great singers that populated those years: "Misty" (Johnny Mathis), "What a Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong), and "Fly Me to the Moon" (Frank Sinatra).

Of the themes for television programs that were performed, some clearly stood very well on their own. This seemed particularly true of the march from "Hogan's Heroes" (by Jerry Fielding), and Vince Guaraldi's charming music for the "Charlie Brown" programs that brought Linus and Lucy to television.

It was a clever program. The Symphony played well, albeit without particular crispness, but chalk that up to too many pieces to rehearse. I personally would have liked at least a few works that lasted more than three minutes. Perhaps music from film scores of the era might have served that purpose well.

In this way an orchestra can bite into something with more enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, it was an evening of highly pleasant music in a beautiful setting. How fortunate that years ago visionaries saw grass rather than buildings on that one acre plot off Ives Street. A final question. Why did only 200 people come to listen on such a gorgeous evening for music anyone could enjoy?

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Brahms' Requiem in excellent performance

By Jim Pegolotti
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CORRESPONDENT
2005-05-13

DANBURY - In one of those wonderful accidents of scheduling, the Danbury Music Centre presented a performance of Johannes Brahms' "Ein Deutsches Requiem" in Ives Concert Hall on May 7, the very birthday of the composer. But the "German Requiem" is not about birth, but permanent "rest," which is the meaning of "requiem." No other composer has ever produced such a personal choice of Biblical passages for a requiem not to mourn the dead, but to serve the living as a compassionate companion. Once this largest of Brahms' works is heard, it is hard not to want to hear it again.

Richard Price conducted the Danbury Concert Chorus and Danbury Symphony Orchestra in this the sixth performance of the work by the Music Centre forces in 45 years. None of these performances were in a church setting. A secular location is appropriate because this is a very personal statement by Brahms and is not in the form of the traditional requiem, the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead. Instead, the composer, who read the Lutheran bible regularly but was an agnostic, chose portions from both the Old and New Testaments to bring a sense of peace and solace to those who mourn.

Scholars believe it was the death of his close friend Robert Schumann in 1856 that first set a very young Brahms in motion to construct the requiem. A concert of the first three movements was presented in Vienna in 1867. It is believed that the death of his mother ultimately then inspired him to add a movement (the 5th) sung by a soprano, with the final words: "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." The complete seven-movement work was premiered in Bremen in 1868.

Now to the performance itself. The work was sung in the original German. Price, conducting without a score, brought out the best in both the 70 singers and the orchestra, maximizing that all-important part of conducting - eye contact with the performers. Even with a smaller than needed group of male singers, there was a fine cohesion in the chorus. In this work, Brahms wrote some of his most glorious orchestral music, and I can honestly say that I never heard one note out of place by the instrumentalists. Price made sure that the rhythmic base of every movement was clear.

Where Brahms builds to unusual climaxes, then with a quick descent to pianissimos, the chorus and orchestra together never stepped over aural boundaries, an indication of excellent preparation.

I remember some unusual little touches. For example, in the first movement in the phrase "und kommen mit Freuden" ("come again with rejoicing"), the sopranos, hopping from note to note, seemed to illustrate a natural joy, such as that of innocent youth. At the beginning of the dramatic second movement, the chorus sang the words "Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras" ("For all flesh is as grass") as if a giant was taking great breaths.

Two soloists are called upon by Brahms, a baritone and a soprano. Though I would have preferred a darker, more resonant baritone, Thomas Meglioranza did not hesitate to project the deep feelings in the text, with verve and vocal beauty. He excelled particularly in the sixth movement, where his energetic interchanges with the chorus extolled them into that exceptional fugue that is certainly a highlight and executed to perfection by the Danbury forces.

In the prior movement, the soprano Ellen Taylor Sisson provided an exemplary voice for this segment, lovingly written by Brahms and inspired by the death of his mother. Brahms demands pinpoint accuracy for the melody that almost seems to wander aimlessly at time, and Sisson, in warm, full tones, met the challenge beautifully.

It would be difficult to imagine a better overall performance by nonprofessional forces than the one heard by some 200 people last Saturday evening. As I have mentioned before, there is a need for the Danbury Music Centre board to address the question: Why aren't more people coming to hear the quality music of its musical groups? And the performances are free! O.K., it was a requiem that was performed, but the previous week 400 people attended the performance of the Durufle Requiem, this time at St. Peter Church by the Connecticut Choral Society. And Brahms is certainly better known than Durufle. Again I quote the King of Siam (at least as written by Oscar Hammerstein II in "The King and I"), "Is a puzzlement!"

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Young musicians impressive

By Howard Tuvelle
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
2005-04-22

Last Sunday the Danbury Community Orchestra conducted by Stephen Michael Smith, and the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra directed by Glen Lebetkin, presented a joint program in a fine display of talent.

The Community Orchestra opened the program with "Finlandia, Op. 26," by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). It was an excellent performance with all the needed attention to detail, phrasing, intonation and dynamics.

The second work was "IX Nimrod," from the "Enigma Variations, Op. 36," by the English composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934). This is a quiet piece where the orchestra could obviously show its control over the softer dynamics. They were successful in doing so and the music was quite moving.

The "Allegro animato e grazioso" movement of the "Symphony No. 1, B flat Major, Op. 38," by Robert Schumann, was the third work. This was a bit of a challenge. Subtitled "Spring," (at last!) its writing often seems disjunctive or fragmented. No fault of the orchestra's, this is Schumann's writing, making his music treacherous to play at times. But all in all, the music came-off with considerable verve and spirit.

The Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra was in the pit while the Community Orchestra remained on stage.

Under the direction of Lebetkin, they began with a short work entitled "Quintus," by Larry Clark.

However, it was in "Bylina," by Michael Reilly that some fun was had. There were vocal screams, sound effects. In fact, it sounded as if the strings were scratching an itch at one point, and the musicians gave a vocal sound of relief: "Ahhh!"

Both orchestras and conductors joined forces for a splendid performance of the familiar "Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 19," by Hugo Alfyen (1872-1960). It was a resounding success.

The closing work was "The Moldau," by Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884). The music depicts a ride down the Moldau river in what is now the Czech Republic, and the orchestra gave the work that ease of flowing the composer infused into the music. With finely tapered dynamics and clear intonation, the performance was a splendid.

The value of such orchestras for the youth in this area is one of the great assets provided by the Danbury Music Centre. It is always refreshing to see young people carrying and playing music instruments.

Some of these participating young people, alas, grow up and move on. In honor of their involvement and participation in the orchestras, their names should be mentioned: Katie Schaub, cello; Brian Eder, bass; Elizabeth Isaacson, flute; Carly Kulawitz, clarinet; Jon Wexler, tuba; and Lily Press, harp.

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Danbury Symphony: Top notch performance

By Jim Pegolotti
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CORRESPONDENT
2005-03-20

DANBURY — An Italian and a Canadian helped move the Danbury Symphony upward to another level of achievement Sunday afternoon in Ives Concert Hall. The Italian was guest conductor Salvatore Di Vittorio and the Canadian was soloist Pascal Archer, clarinetist. It was hardly a "Play it by the numbers" concert, not with a program consisting of the Overture to Gioachino Rossini's opera "Semiramide," Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, and (after intermission) Antonin Dvorak's musical paean to the "New World," his Symphony No. 9 in E minor. The works challenged conductor and orchestra alike, and the challenge was met head-on with success.

A big clue to how the concert would go came in the first measures of the Rossini overture. With restrained, but ever clear, baton technique, Di Vittorio immediately had the orchestra crisp in its rhythms. French hornists Nancy Sudik, Dan Coffman, Emily Jones, and Michael Lipham gave the lengthy solo melody in the first minute a warm, note perfect rendering. The pizzicato playing of the strings in the quiet segments had a special propelling quality, as did Debra Morris' perky on-target piccolo segments. Di Vittorio and the orchestra maintained tight control in the inevitable Rossini crescendi. Rossini loved life and this performance brought the listener a great deal of that joy of living.

Di Vittorio, born in Palermo, Italy, first studied under the tutelage of his father, a clarinetist. Perhaps it was this fact that made him an ideal partner for Pascal Archer, soloist in the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. The performance had everything that this Mozart masterpiece required — a master of the instrument in Archer, and a totally attentive orchestra to the interplay required for a top notch performance. And top notch it was.

Archer's clarinet playing, from the treble top to the bass, always had impeccable tone. Here was a clarinetist who wanted the beauty of Mozart's notes to be what you remembered, not the virtuosity of the player. In the second movement — one of Mozart's most beautiful — there were passages of the most delicate pianissimos that made you simply hold your breath. And Di Vittorio induced from the orchestra highly sensitive string playing.

Incidentally, since I happen to be able to provide evidence from comparison-shopping, I found this performance of the Mozart work even more musically rewarding than one I heard a year ago by the Ridgefield Symphony.

It is likely that most of the persons among the 200 or so who attended the concert had heard a recording of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. But a recording can never equate to understanding a composer's intentions, as does a live performance. The orchestra, now with a more animated Di Vittorio, made eminently clear in the percussive and brassy first movement the Czech composer's feelings about the United States, his home for three years (1892-1895): it was a land of vigor and brashness. Dvorak, in the famed "Largo movement, acknowledged the diversity of the United States using the spiritual-like theme now known as "Goin' Home." Jim Thoensen performed the English horn solo, which introduces that wistful melody, with quiet elegance. The religious-sounding orchestral chorale, which opens and closes the movement, had the orchestra sounding like a glorious pipe organ.

The scherzo third movement, with its tricky rhythms, has the potential to send an orchestra off kilter so that Dvorak might suddenly sound like Schoenberg. But nothing like this happened. Di Vittorio's strong beat and cueing kept everything moving smoothly, both before and after the impressive playing of the woodwinds in the central portion. The final movement, full of a strong forward thrust provided by the first-rate brass players, evidenced a confident orchestra, completely engrossed in the power of the music. So too was the audience, whose enthusiastic applause was of a magnitude that said only one thing: "Well, Done!" Di Vittorio's leadership evidenced a natural and significant talent.

Cost benefit ratios are a big thing today (the ratio of your return for amount invested). So, here's my analysis of this idea in terms of musical pleasure. The benefit given is an hour and a half of quality music; the admission cost is zero dollars. Now zero divided into any quantity is infinity.

Therefore, hearing the Danbury Symphony provides an infinite benefit to the mind and soul of the hearer. Now how can the word be spread about these enormous benefits from attending a Danbury Symphony concert? I wonder if the Wall Street Journal would be interested in a feature article on this?

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Young People's Concert satisfies Danbury crowd

By Jim Pegolotti
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CORRESPONDENT
2005-02-11

DANBURY - Wonderful music was released Sunday afternoon by the Danbury Symphony Orchestra in its annual Young People's Concert. Yes, released is the correct word because guest conductor Ariel Rudiakov, a well-spoken, tall and lanky New Yorker, brought Ludwig's Chamber Box of Music with him. A variation on the magic lamp of the Arabian Nights, this small, dark and mysterious container had locked in it all the music of the program.

To open the box and loose the music, the audience (in rhythmic clapping) together with the orchestra (well, almost together) had to sound out the four-note theme - Ta, Ta, Ta, Tumm - that begins Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. O.K., it's a fanciful gimmick, but it worked, as proved by the joyous laughter of the many children in the large audience. And best of all these youngsters exhibited rapt attention and enthusiasm for the music as it poured forth, composer by composer.

Many had come to Ives Concert Hall especially to hear the performance of petite pianist 12-year-old Jenny Lu, winner of the Danbury Music Centre's youth concerto competition.

The first movement of Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto was the centerpiece of the program. But prior to it, Rudiakov had already led the orchestra in three works with clear evidence of excellent conducting technique. The orchestra responded with crisp attacks and a real musical sense of the different composing styles.

Mozart's Overture to "Marriage of Figaro" had elation throughout and a constant firm pulse. The "Hoe-Down" from Aaron Copland's ballet "Rodeo" brought special applause with its musical picture of foot-stomping dancers. Rudiakov, aided by the articulate violin of concertmaster Larry Deming, then moved from Americana to Veneziana with a portion of a violin concerto by the 17th century Antonio Vivaldi. The strings here had a most unusual warmth and glow. (Rudiakov is himself an accomplished violist.)

And then came Miss Lu. Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto looks back to Mozart rather than forward to the composer's later emotional works. The lengthy orchestral introduction built to an appropriate tension while the pre-teen remained seated ever calmly. The piano's quiet entrance contrasted all the more impressively as the soloist exhibited a loving touch, releasing the melodies firmly and with crystal clarity.

Throughout, Lu's fingers moved effortlessly and accurately over the keys with careful phrasing and brilliant trilling. The cadenza was attacked with restrained passion, never letting the left hand heaviness overwhelm the right hand's need to be heard. The balance of orchestra and pianist was first rate. It was a fine choice of music for this very talented girl to have played at this point in her pianistic development. Her future is bright indeed.

A shortened version of Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun" followed, along with a portion of "Shuo," music by Chen Yi, a contemporary Chinese composer. Both works evidenced a quieter side to music, in preparation for the "Russian Easter Overture" of Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov. No one orchestrated more brilliantly than this late 19th century Russian and this lengthy overture challenges an orchestra because of its constant changes of tempi and mood.

Rudiakov drew from the orchestra an outstanding performance. The opening, with its clear sense of Orthodox church music, emphasized that ever-present sadness persisting in most Russian works. But from sadness emerged a sense of triumph, a pleasure in being alive. The thrilling conclusion simply knocked the audience's musical socks off. Special mention must be made of the excellence of the entire brass ensemble and the solo work of trombonist Charles Tidd and violinist Deming. Tom Morris' emphatic timpani playing made the final measures especially memorable.

Conductors come and go, but let us see more of Rudiakov. He has the touch.

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Price conducts excellent "Messiah"

By Jim Pegolotti
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CORRESPONDENT
2004-12-24

DANBURY - Thank God for Handel's "Messiah," Danbury Music Centre traditions, and Saint Peter Church, whose acoustics are wonderful. All of these coalesce into one of the region's finest annual musical events: the Christmastime performance of "Messiah" by the Danbury Concert Chorus and Baroque Chamber Orchestra. And its free! (Thank you, Union Savings Bank for major funding.)

Is it possible that every year, the musical results get better? Well, I believe that is the case under the direction of Richard Price, now in his third year as the conductor of the Danbury chorus. The singers - 100 strong - filled the front of the church from wall to wall. Their entries were crisp and they followed Price's baton exhortations well. The sound was generally balanced even with the overabundance of female singers.

The orchestra of 20 members, played with accurate intonations and they clearly evidenced the emotion of the music in their playing. Stephen Roberts, organist and Stephen Rapp, harpsichordist, added their worthy talents.

The four soloists were absolutely first-rate: Karen Morse, soprano; Laura Vlasak Nolen, mezzo-soprano; Sean Fallen, tenor; Rodney Davis, bass. Their voices carried splendidly throughout the church and never with a sense of being forced.

Tenor Fallen began the oratorio's solo arias with an admirable "Every valley shall be exalted." His is a warm, supple voice and he chose judiciously the expected embellishments, such as appoggiaturas (hitting special notes slightly from above, the vocal equivalent of a grace note). His vocal quaver on the word "crooked" emphasized the meaning wonderfully. His later aria, "Thou shalt dash them," was appropriately dramatic, with a fine nuanced quality.

Bass Rodney Davis' voice is rich and firm. Handel gives the bass some of his finest writings and Davis proved to be a master in each. His voice blazed in his first aria, as he described how the Messiah would be "like a refiner's fire." Toward the end of the oratorio, his delivery of "The trumpet shall sound" (overlaid with the impeccable playing of trumpeter Stan Schmidt) showed both effective dynamics and breath control.

Mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen's voice is full, highly pleasing to the ear, and with excellent enunciation. Though all three of her solos were fine, it was in the vocally challenging "He was despised and rejected of men" that she combined into near perfection vocal beauty with the emotion of the words.

Soprano Karen Morse brought a voice of special clarity to her arias. She, too, chose her embellishments carefully. For her "Rejoice greatly" aria, I made note of how her voice appeared to be "liquid in movement." For this most joyful of arias in my program I simply wrote "Super" about her performance. For "I know that my Redeemer liveth," she darkened her voice, while adding some gentle trills - all in the best of vocal taste.

And what to say about the chorus? Well, Price does an amazing job in bringing this large group into firm cohesion with only five rehearsals. Most of the choruses in Part I of the oratorio came across with a modicum of vocal dynamics; those after intermission (portions of Parts II and III) showed more of the choristers abilities to provide shades of differences, such as in the "All we like sheep" and "Since by man came death" choruses. The "Hallelujah" chorus came through as clean in words and full in power.

But it was Handel's incredible final chorus "Worthy is the lamb" that showed Price is no ordinary conductor. Repetitions were taken at different dynamics, with wonderful emphasis on "Blessing and honour, glory and pow'r." His tempo for the "Amen" fugal conclusion was ideal and he urged the singers to build ever more slightly, aiming at that apotheosis of sound: the heavenly note by the sopranos a few measures from the end. The rousing ovation by a near-capacity audience seemed to say "Amen" indeed.

What could have been better? Well, come next year and find out.

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Music Centre’s ‘Nutcracker’ delights and enthralls

By Howard Tuvelle
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
2004-12-17

Before the performance of the Danbury Music Centre's "Nutcracker Ballet," Carlos Sousa, a member of the Centre's board, greeted the audience. He introduced Danbury's Mayor Mark Boughton, who promised to lower the property taxes for the person who laughed the loudest at his role in the ballet as Mother Ginger.

In its 37th season, I had misgivings about what I thought might be an amateur ballet production, expecting to see a stage full of little dancers, flapping arms and legs while looking somewhat dazed as to what should come next. How wrong I was. This performance took me quite by surprise and proved to be both highly professional and a pure delight.

The performance was carefully worked out, choreographed most imaginatively, designed most luxuriously, and with dancing that was disciplined, precise, and exquisitely executed.

Even the vitality of everyone in the cast projected across the footlights.

The opening Christmas party scene, with guests arriving, introduces Clara, convincingly as well as charmingly played by Rachel Schwartz – an honor student at Scotts Ridge Middle School. It is around Clara that the complete story is woven.

I was amused by the antics of Fritz – so tauntingly and jocularly played by Dylan Denton, who seems to be a real "pro." All the guests, especially the children, seemed to be enchanted by the arrival of Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by Brad Bechard. Correction: Bechard may well be the REAL Uncle Drosselmeyer! The grandparents (Mary Laura Pritchard and Jim Connelly) were effective in their roles.

As the story goes there is a battle between the mice kingdom and the Nutcracker, with his martial toy soldiers. The Mouse King (Ase-AmenRa B. Kariamu – teacher and superb Afrikan percussionist) encounters the Nutcracker (Jerry Walton, of Danbury), and they do battle against each other. The Mouse King is defeated.

Of course, with so many important roles, what to me was so pleasurable to view were the many young people on stage in their captivating costumes. Their intricate dances – a triumph in choreography – were meticulously danced without any trace of flaws, hesitations or awkward gestures.

I wish as well to applaud Will Denton, who played Drosselmeyer's nephew, Maggie Ronan, the Dew Drop Fairy, whose dancing was so graceful, and Ashley Albonetti, whose exotic Arabian dance displayed her amazing agility and ability. I doubt if history's Salome could have surpassed her! Miss Albonetti was also the Snow Queen. The Snow scene dance, with falling snow, was a marvel to behold.

Beautifully executed also, were the Spanish and Chinese dances. The audience exuberantly applauded the Russian Trepak dance, a lively group of dancers. Thanks to Tschaikovsky as well.

Mother Ginger, (Mayor Boughton) wears an enormously inflated hoop skirt that projects her/him upwards to about 10 or 15 feet. From under her skirt, as it opens, emanates many petite dancers who were splendid. As a doting mother, I laughed heartily and am still laughing.

Does this mean my property taxes will be lowered? He should be applauded, as this is surely a step up from kissing babies! All jesting aside, it is good to see our mayor steeped in the local arts, or should it be said: raised to a higher level!

The crowning moment of the ballet, of course, was the dancing between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. The Fairy, Danielle Napolione – a senior at Carmel High School, and the Cavalier, James Anthony Washington, a professional dancer with many plaudits, were the personification of elegance and grace. All their ballet positions: the arabesque, attitude, pirouette, grand jete, pas de deux and more, were done with ease, good form and excellent technique.

Congratulations to the Music Centre, to Conductor Richard Price and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, to Arthur Fredric, artistic director and choreographer, to Laurie Madeux Toothill, costume designer, and all the others responsible for lighting and stage direction.

This marvelous coming together of so many talented people makes the healthiest form of artistic expression by a community. All those who sponsored the Centre's Nutcracker Ballet, financially, artistically and otherwise, should take a bow. Thank you for your dedication to the enrichment of so many children interested in the arts.

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Danbury Community Orchestra goes Russian

By Jim Pegolotti
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CORRESPONDENT
2004-12-12

DANBURY — After listening to the Danbury Community Orchestra perform its fall concert it was easy to think that the Russian soul, as depicted in music, is made up of one part humor and 10 parts depression.

The orchestra, the local combination of musical talents of ages 8 to 80, performed last Sunday in the Ives Concert Hall of Western Connecticut State University. Leading them in his second season as music director and conductor was Stephen Michael Smith, who chose "Russian Canvasses" as his theme.

Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953) depicted the story of Romeo and Juliet in music for a ballet, then devised two orchestral suites from the music. The concert began with music describing the antagonism between the families of the two lovers, the Montagues and Capulets. The work begins with intense dissonance, which ultimately leads to a grand major chord. There were more dissonances to be heard in the performance than were in the written score, so I suspect many in the audience were a bit apprehensive about what was ahead in the concert.

The "Romance" from Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije" followed with more of the same seriousness. Finally the Kije "Troika" brought energy and humor into the concert hall, with the strings showing off their pizzicato abilities. In two brief segments of the "Suite No. 1" ("Andante" and "Balalaika") by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), the orchestra found itself in complete command of the music.

What followed was a highlight of the afternoon: "Marche Slav" by P.I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Though considered a "war horse" (something overplayed in concerts, but usually a crowd pleaser), it remains a brisk reminder of the excellence of Tchaikovsky as an orchestrator. Though the initial portion sounded a bit too funereal, once the martial portion came into play both the trumpet section and the woodwinds proved their excellence, and the final result was a highly enjoyable listening experience.

Last on the formal program, a French touch was added to the solemn Russian music. In 1922, Maurice Ravel transformed the piano work "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) into a glorious palette of musical colors. From this 10-part work, Smith chose four. The orchestra produced some of its finest cohesive sounds in "Bydlo," the description of a cart pulled by overburdened oxen and languidly moving through rutted roads. In "Catacombs," the brass section of the orchestra glowed brightly and accurately. For the Russian witch "Baba-Yaga," the cellos were inspired to their best work. (What imagination in Ravel to pair the cellos with a tuba!)

I suspect the instrumentalists must have focused their long-range attention on the final picture, "The Great Gate of Kiev." Here was the orchestra's opportunity to prove it was an orchestra of many talents and shaped well by its conductor; it most certainly did do just that. With the grand opening chord, wide in its tonal spectrum, the players went on through the quiet inner portion (taken very slowly), to the final dramatic and triumphant conclusion. It had been a concert that moved forward, ever better with each succeeding work, a compliment to players and conductor alike.

Years ago, the December concert by the orchestra had a holiday flavor. Not to forget this tradition, Smith returned to the stage, after the large audience had applauded long and hard, to lead a simply perfect rendition of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." From this musical clue, my guess is that Anderson didn't have very much Russian blood in him.

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Chorus gives star-spangled performance

By Howard Tuvelle
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
2004-11-19

In an imaginative program that illustrated America's musical roots and its ethnic diversity, the Danbury Concert Chorus, directed by Richard Price, gave a program in Ives Concert Hall last Sunday. It was a real "smasharoo," meaning, the program and presentation could hardly have been better in delivery, concept and scope!

Joining the chorus was the Germantown Ancients Fife and Drum Corp, Walter Rynkiewicz, Director, and Ancestral Voices: Kariamu Afrikan Drums, Ase-AmenRa Kariamu, Director.

The concert was entitled "Harvest Home: An American Journey," and this title could not have been more appropriate. In fact, I bestow on Mr. Price the local arts award for the most imaginative programming!

During the Colonial period do you know what people did for entertainment? After all, there were no TVs, theaters and shopping malls.

Seems they went to one of the many "singing societies" throughout New England. A simple attempt by clergymen to stamp out the "horrid Medley of confused and disorderly Noises" of the singing in churches, these societies were instituted to improve singing but soon became the place also to meet others and to… well, you take it from there!

Opening the program with the "Star-Spangled Banner," the audience stood and also sang. Then came "America" – not the familiar one, but that of William Billings, (1746-1800) a tanner from Boston and a composer of tunes. Whether tanning or tuning, his catchy music has survived as part of New England's singing (and marching) legacy.

The Germantown fifers gave an exciting solo performance and then joined the chorus in the Billings song.

Two deliciously lyrical pieces followed, gentle and serene in nature: "Sure on Their Shining Night," by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), and "Dirait-on," by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943), sung in French. The chorus sang them with finely tapered dynamics.

The highlight, plainly, of the program's first half was the four American folk songs arranged by Mr. Price: "The Streets of Laredo, Cindy, Hushabye and Jefferson & Liberty." Of the four, "Hushabye" provided for me what was the most poignant and moving moment of singing in the entire afternoon. My compliments to the arranger.

After intermission came a treat: two "Afrikan" songs – one sung in Yoruba dialect and the other in English and Zulu: "Betelehemu," (Nigeria) and "The Warrior" (South Africa)." The Warrior was repeated, and with the exciting Afrikan drums causing choral members to sway back and forth (fortunately no chorus member swayed off the risers on stage), the audience began swaying as well. Of course Mr. Price must have planned all this!

Three interesting pieces ensued: from Argentina and Brazil, sung in Spanish and Portuguese. The audience got to participate again in "Ale Brider" (all brothers), the Yiddish song with a one word lyric: "yoy"…or was it "oy"?…an expression meaning "oh dear,"—depending upon how it's expressed. With clapping hands and being cued by conductor Price when to sing "oy,oy,oy,oy" etc., it was an audience pleaser of the first order!

"The Battle of Jericho" was sung in commemoration of Brown vs. Board of Education 1954-2004, and the program concluded with "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," when all the forces of the day, the Germantown Ancients and Kariamu Drum and Dance, joined the chorus and brought the afternoon to a high peak of music enjoyment.

The individual vocal soloists in the program must be given considerable praise for their parts, as well.

I give you one word to express the sum of it: impressive!

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Danbury Symphony's winning concert of American music

By Jim Pegolotti
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CORRESPONDENT
2004-11-12

DANBURY - Perhaps it was the beautiful Sunday afternoon weather; perhaps some music lovers were still in shock after the election. For whatever reason, only some 150 persons came to hear the fall program of the Danbury Symphony in Ives Auditorium of Western Connecticut State University.

All the more pity because the program, entitled "American Memoirs" proved cleverly devised and very well played overall. The guest conductor was Stephen Michael Smith, who only last year became the music director of the Music Centre's other orchestra, the Danbury Community Orchestra. Smith kindly agreed to take the concert when David Katz resigned after only two years at the Symphony's helm.

Memories are activated by music. The center point of the concert was the childhood memories of author James Agee, set to music by Samuel Barber (1910-1981).

"Knoxville: Summer of 1915" is a masterpiece of American music. The nostalgic words of Agee, describing a summer evening when he lived in Knoxville "so successfully disguised to myself as a child," were sung by soprano Maire O'Brien of the New York City Opera. She brought not only a crystal-clear and vibrant voice, but admirable articulation as the orchestra calmly and gently spun out Barber's peaceful and poetic music. Smith brought to life a performance to be proud of.

The well-known "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland (1900-1990) opened the program. Timpanist Tom Morris shook the proverbial rafters with the gargantuan opening sounds, but when the brass entered, there was not the urgency of a fanfare, but rather a mildness, probably due to the choice of a rather slow tempo.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) had memories of America from his visit here from 1892-1895. He was fascinated by both the Negro spiritual and the culture of the American Indian, including their music. Some of the latter emerged in the use of pentatonic scales in his "Suite in A Major," given the name "American." First written for the piano, he orchestrated it later. It was a nice idea to incorporate this into the "American Memoirs" program. Although not first-rate Dvorak, the orchestra gave it a nice reading, particularly impressive in the andante movement, where fine phrasing helped the rolling, lullaby-like rhythm.

Though the music of Charles Ives did not appear on the program, it clearly inspired Larry Deming, the orchestra's concertmaster (and composer-in-residence, so to speak). Deming took a fiddle tune, surrounded it with recognizable fragments of other music ala Ives, and created "Variations on Blackberry Blossom."

Conductor Smith had urged Deming to complete the work so as to premiere it on this program. It's a fun piece, with all the drive of pulsating string sections constant in its fiddle rhythms. The snippets of other tunes often went in counterpoint, with none more surprising than Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from "Peer Gynt." As Deming himself told the audience, his piece contained everything "including the kitchen sink." Indeed, in the "Shave and a Haircut" conclusion, he smashed his foot down on several metal objects to prove his point.

Copland, America's most performed 20th century composer, had the final musical word with the orchestral suite from his 1954 opera, "The Tender Land." The three-movement suite, like the Barber work, found the orchestra in top form. The central "Party scene" movement is full of tricky rhythms, quick entrances, and just about anything to cause concern for any orchestra's conductor. Here Smith showed that, though he seldom evinces other than modest conductorial gestures, he knows how to make an orchestra roll with the punches.

The Danbury Symphony Orchestra deserves larger audiences; it's really that good. The board of the Music Center needs to find a way to spread the word.

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Quartet gives unusual program

By Howard Tuvelle
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
2004-10-15

Some performances are called recitals, and some are designated as concerts. Years ago Pop musicians began calling their performances concerts, borrowing the term from what was once called the "classical concert world."

The "Deming String Quartet in Recital," under the sponsorship of the Danbury Music Centre, presented a program last Saturday in the Marian Anderson Recital Hall, with funding for the performance provided by Home Instead Senior Care. Founded by violinist Larry Deming, the quartet also includes Alison Breisler on violin, Gisela Schenck on viola, and Jordan Jancz on cello. The quartet was expanded to a quintet in some program selections, with percussionist Matt Moadel.

In recital, and in a recital hall, was it a recital in the accepted sense? Perhaps, although a Deming program is more like a "happening"! He serves as narrator, arranger, and presenter of the not so often heard instruments and styles of music. His programs are eclectic, ranging as in this one from the first century to the present, with instruments such as the glass chimes, a key chime (strung household keys on boards), and, with the help of percussionist Moadel, a Filipino bamboo rattler and the dumbek, an African drum.

His programs, I believe, are intended both to entertain and educate. Saturday's opening selection was the "Skolion of Seikelos." A skolion is an ancient drinking song from the First Century, A.D. Then came a dance, "Estampie," from Europe. By the fourth selection fourteen centuries had been leaped over. The glass chimes selection, without a name, seemed to be a rather free improvisation, with a tinkling of the glass from time to time.

The mid-section of the program, of 14 pieces, was what one might call old familiar standards: Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," - yes, without the piano! I had never heard its famous melody arranged for a string quartet, but it was effective. Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" probably makes a better piece for a string quartet than it did a song! Deming's arrangement was superb.

There was also a mystery piece indicated on the program only by "?" -! It was a kind of spontaneous improvised performance, employing the key chimes, although they were barely audible even in the front row. Deming, who remarked: "What is it, well…?" No one was certain that even he knew! Based, no doubt, on a melody and directions by him, the piece unfolded in a rather free improvisation that slivered into and out of harmonic realms, and finally concluded with a kind of nebulous cadence.

One of the most charming pieces was "Variations on Blackberry Blossom," a bluegrass standard where Deming's arrangement attractively wove in other tidbits of familiar tunes, such as Pachelbel's Canon. This was one of the most interesting highlights of his arranging skills.

The program closed with the much beloved "Amazing Grace" with the Gershwin Rhapsody repeated as an encore.

Deming's pioneering programs are to be admired. With fine musicians, his casual and communicative manner, people in the audience must have felt closer to the music and performers.

Even though these concerts are free to the public and do so much to enhance our musical scene, an observation might be offered. Rather than the almost too casual indeterminacy this performance seemed to project, had the remarks to the audience been more thought out, and perhaps more rehearsals beforehand, this would have given the "recital" the kind of musical and informational cohesiveness it seemed to need. Then a sharper edge might have been achieved in the execution of the program, in general. We owe it as musicians, first to the music and always to our listeners.

Most certainly, the performers are to be congratulated for bringing a wide range of the world's most interesting and often neglected music, past and present, to local music devotees.

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