News-Times Online

Concert Reviews
For The 2006 – 2007 Season

Past Reviews

David Gale – Violin, Saturday Oct. 28th

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday Nov. 5nd

Danbury Concert Chorus, Sunday Nov. 12th

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday Dec. 3th

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet, Dec. 8, 9, & 10

Handel's Messiah, Sunday Dec. 17th   No Review

Young People's Concert, Sunday Feb. 4th

DSO, Musical Illustrations, Sunday Mar. 18th

WMNR – Leroy Anderson, Sunday Mar. 25th

DCO, World Premiere, Sunday, May 6th

Elijah, Saturday, May 12th

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Musical drama from the Old Testament in Danbury

By Gilbert Mott
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
May 18 2007

Felix Mendelssohn's "Elijah" takes an Old Testament story and Baroque and Classical oratorio forms and creates a sprawling, Romantic music drama that has been popular since its premiere in England, 160 years ago. The forces of the Danbury Music Centre showed how exciting and dramatic a work it is in their performance at St. James Church on Saturday night.

The text is adapted from several incidents in the life of the prophet Elijah. A drought afflicts the people of Israel because they have abandoned their faith and embraced the heathen god Baal; Elijah shows them the error of their ways and brings rain with his plea to the Lord. More troubles lead him to sojourn in the wilderness, discouraged, but he is finally triumphant, rising in a fiery chariot to heaven.

Richard Price, music director of the Danbury Concert Chorus, conducted with a sure hand, but much of his work had obviously been done beforehand. The volunteer chorus had been exceedingly well trained, making entrances with assurance, following dynamic cues and playing their dramatic roles with conviction.

The chorus summoned a big, full sound when needed and crisply handled passages of interjections, such as Elijah's recitative with chorus early in the piece. One of the choir's several roles is as the Priests of Baal, who vainly call on their pagan god; the sections tossed their phrases back and forth, convincingly portraying the desperate crowd. In quiet, chorale-like settings or the famous choruses "Lift thine eyes" and "He watching over Israel" they showed their sensitive side, in soft, well-phrased singing.

The later choruses found them still with enough energy and sensitivity to sing of the mighty wind, the sea's upheaval and the "still, small voice" in which the Lord finally speaks.

Bass-baritone Michael Riley, in the title role, led a fine quartet of soloists. He sings with a clear, ringing tone and none of the common bass wooliness. His diction and dramatic presentation are first rate. His challenge to the Priests of Baal, sarcastic dismissal of them after their god fails to respond and his invocation of his own God's might ("Is not his word like a fire?") were fiery and strong. The air "Lord God of Abraham" showed his lyrical side. His air of quiet resignation, "O Lord, I have labored in vain", rounded out his portrayal of the prophet in all his facets.

Soprano Elisabeth Baer and Mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasek Nolen were a complementary, well-matched pair in the opening duet and continued to impress in their respective solos. Baer has sung Wagnerian roles and brought dramatic conviction and exciting high notes. Nolen's mezzo is smooth and well produced throughout its range. Her singing sounds effortless, calm and in control, angry ("Woe unto them who forsake Him") or plaintive ("O rest in the Lord") as required.

Tenor Christopher Pfund was announced as singing with strep throat, which doubtless explained some fraying in his upper register. His sure phrasing and lyrical line were still in evidence. Boy soprano Libai Jordan sang out strongly and sweetly as the youth who announces the coming of the rain, God's answer to Elijah's prayer.

Price conducted a well-built, expertly paced performance. The tension of long, expressive lines led to satisfying dramatic peaks. Mendelssohn's audiences, like Handel's before him, looked for theatrical excitement in the telling of Biblical stories, and this performance came out of that tradition. The Danbury Symphony Orchestra played well for him, particularly in the large passages full of brass and percussion. First cellist Laura Flachbart played her duet with Elijah ("It is enough") sensitively and surely. The visceral thrill of the final chorus would surely have sent Victorian audiences home satisfied, just as it did this one.


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Premiere highlights Community Orchestra concert

By Jan Stribula
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
May 11 2007

DANBURY -- The Danbury Community Orchestra gave the world premiere performance of a suite from "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" last Sunday and it was breathtaking.

Composed by Paula M. Kimper (b. 1956), the performance was at Ives Concert Hall at WestConn. Kimper and Steven Michael Smith, music director and conductor of the Danbury Community Orchestra, nearly brought the house down in their collaboration. Kimper had been working closely with Smith and the orchestra earlier in the week, fine tuning the suite which was derived in part from her opera.

Kimper's composition was based on Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning novel set in the Peruvian Andes, involving a quest for meaning in the lives and deaths of people who perished when a rope bridge they were crossing failed. (In an interesting coincidence, on Tuesday The New York Times featured an article about similar suspension bridges, citing Wilder's book.)

The wind chimes and flutes playing against droning strings created a sense of high altitude eeriness in the opening bars, with trumpets building up to the snapping cables and perilous descent. The solemn story unfolded with melodic majesty through the use of interesting orchestration including piano, woodwinds, and percussion. Emotional and evocative, the suite blended Spanish flavors with diverse thematic imagery. The overall effect was spellbinding.

The musical program had a lot of other exciting works, starting with excerpts from "Prelude from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg," by Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883). A full array of brass added a rich harmonic texture to the popular theme that had plenty of orchestral oomph.

Four of the graduating seniors formed a string quartet performing with the orchestra, (but without Smith!) in the rondo from "Serenade No. 6 in D Major, K. 239, (Serenata notturna)" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791). This juxtaposition was actually a very nice way to display both orchestra and quartet. Violinists Elena Zitzman and Kellie Kravarik, violist Julia Isaacson, and cellist David Becroft formed the quartet and showed a lot of musical maturity. Smith acknowledged all of the seniors, after spending years together with them.

The young members of the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra, led by Music Director and Conductor Glen Lebetkin showed their sure sense of timing and generally good tonality in Mozart's "Divertimo No. 3." They were really cooking in "The Irish Crossing the Sea" by Bob Phillips.

Several significant symphonic segments were presented. The stern chords in the allegro from "Symphony No. 2 in B Minor" by Alexander Borodin (1833 - 1887) sounded dramatic and exotic. I'm not sure how far Smith plans on going with the cycle of symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827), a formidable endeavor indeed. Last year they performed part of Symphony No.1, this year the fourth movement from "Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36," thundering into the satisfying finale.

For an encore they all took off with "Superman's Theme" from the film score by John Williams. They all sounded Super!

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WMNR Fine Arts Radio marks 25th anniversary with concert

By Jan Stribula
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
2007-03-30

NEWTOWN -- It may appear there were 25th anniversary concerts happening left and right last weekend, but it was something quite special actually. WMNR Fine Arts Radio has been providing around the clock broadcasting of primarily classical programming for the last 25 years, serving listeners far beyond their station in Monroe. I hope they're going to be around forever.

The station's general manager, Kurt Anderson, conducted members of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra in a Leroy Anderson Pops Concert last Sunday afternoon at Edmond Town Hall, celebrating with some of his father's most popular compositions. Each of the tunes was introduced using the PBS video documentary "Once Upon a Sleigh Ride." The transitions from video to live performances were as natural as the music.

Leroy Anderson (1908 - 1975) will be having his centennial anniversary next year, and his work seems to be gaining popularity in the American songbook as time goes by. Some tunes have become inseparably connected to theme songs or seasonal events and are instantly recognized by just about everybody. Much of his work was composed when he lived in nearby Woodbury.

We got to see and hear many musical family resemblances, with Leroy's son Kurt conducting, and his grandson Lars Vercelli singing two songs from the Broadway musical "Goldilocks." Vercelli's baritone and charisma came through loud and clear in "Save a Kiss" and "Shall I Take My Heart and Go?"

The video featured numerous pops celebrities such as Skitch Henderson, Arthur Fiedler and John Williams giving their anecdotes and accolades to Leroy Anderson, but the music speaks for itself. Kurt and the DSO seemed to be having a ball from start to finish.

Some of the tunes were downright silly, and gave percussionist extraordinaire Albert Montecalvo chances to whistle, bark, yell, or just scrape the rim of his tom tom as in "Sandpaper Ballet." Montecalvo's woodblocks kept time with some help from Kurt's baton and alarm clock in "The Syncopated Clock."

DSO Music Director Ari Rudiakov left his baton at home, but joined the string section with his viola. Phil Pitner's solo in "A Trumpeter's Lullaby" with the strings had a catchy rhythm. The wistful "Forgotten Dreams" began on video with Leroy playing piano with his right hand while conducting with his left, and ended with the DSO and Debbie Morris in a lovely flute solo. Oboist Donna Locke played triangle with Montecalvo going ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-tick-TING in "The Typewriter."

John Babina, who serves as technical advisor and founded WMNR with his wife Carol, thanked all the people who make the listener supported station possible, the volunteers, members and donors, and he introduced some of the staff as seen in an old photo.

During intermission I was able to meet some of the people behind the microphones or behind the scenes at WMNR as they served refreshments. It was good to finally have faces to go with the voices I've been listening to for years on the radio.

The orchestra added real playfulness to their playing. The strings in "The Waltzing Cat" created a pleasant combination of smoothness and meowing. "March of Two Left Feet" had brass and winds sounding deliberately clumsy. But the DSO could also sound simply marvelous, as in "Belle of the Ball" and "Blue Tango," the first instrumental to top the hit parade and become a gold record.

For an encore, they gave a spirited "Sleigh Ride" with some jazzy brass, and Vercelli cracking the whip from the sidelines. In his closing comments, Kurt made it clear how much he appreciated WMNR, the DSO, and everyone's support.

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Musical illustrations with the Danbury Symphony Orchestra

By Jan Stribula
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
Mar 23 2007

DANBURY -- In his first season as music director and conductor for the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Ariel Rudiakov seems to have a knack for selecting pieces that work well, for orchestras and audiences alike. The Danbury Music Centre presented another DSO concert last Sunday afternoon at Ives Concert Hall at WestConn with a diverse selection of music that illustrated some exciting picture painting with sound.

What better way to get off to a rip-roaring start than an overture by Gioacchino Rossini (1792 - 1868)? The comic opera "The Italian Girl in Algiers" actually starts out slowly, with plucked strings, brash brass, and a brief oboe tune. But with typical Rossini crescendos, the strings and woodwinds built percussive oomph into the joyful carefree themes.

Rudiakov felt that the score for "Prelude to An Afternoon of a Faun," by impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918), left no margin for error whatsoever. Admittedly, the DSO was exposed throughout the hauntingly sensuous spellbinding music, but they really pulled it off wonderfully. The flute as faun was daydreaming about a romp with a nymph, with an enchanting mix of harp, horns, and strings providing a soft cushion for all to play in. Smooth floating winds entered airily, with the orchestra swelling and ebbing in passion.

We came back to earth in a Bohemian countryside with three "Slavonic Dances" by Antonin Dvorak (1841 - 1904). Pleasant peasant dances with a flurry of activity created a party atmosphere, with a touch of nostalgia. In dance "No. 2 in e minor, Op. 72" rhapsodic violins against pizzicato cellos had a bittersweet taste.

After intermission, I was happy to see some interesting reeds join in with the DSO for a jazzy performance of "An American in Paris," by George Gershwin (1898 - 1937). The music created the hustle and bustle of a walk through the busy streets in Paris, complete with taxi horns. It seemed you could smell the atmospheres of the different shops, passing here and there, peeking inside. A bluesy medley suggested homesickness, but was overcome with delight in continuing to wander around the City of Lights with a new friend.

There was so much going on. Whew! Trumpets as the protagonists, come-hither violins, good vibes -- all were excellent! Rudiakov and his new friends with the DSO deserved the standing ovation they received.

"An American in Paris" has some interesting Connecticut connections. Occasional Stamford resident Deems Taylor wrote the original program notes for the premiere of the work at Carnegie Hall in 1928, with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Philharmonic. Taylor's descriptive notes take you through how Gershwin used five principal themes, where they walked, what they drank, etc. The original notes will be included in the soon to be published book "Deems Taylor: Selected Writings" by former News-Times music correspondent Jim Pegolotti.

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Thrilling concert with Danbury Symphony Orchestra

By Jan Stribula
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS TIMES
2007-02-04

Danbury -- With an exciting program that was both entertaining and educational, Music Director and Conductor Ariel Rudiakov and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra made lots of new friends last Sunday afternoon. The Danbury Music Centre presented "A Young People's Concert" at WestConn's Ives Concert Hall, perhaps inspiring some in the audience to join onstage someday. I expect they will be successful, as it looked like they were having a lot of fun up there.

Before a note was played, Albert Montecalvo, summer bands program director for the Music Centre, explained how music students could participate in a five-week session and keep their instruments from getting too dusty during the long break between classroom lessons.

Family concerts deliberately reach out to children who may have only a limited amount of exposure to classical music. Rudiakov certainly kept that in mind in the selection of pieces that were performed.

Cymbals crashed as the DSO came to life with a lively pair of Czech folk tunes from "Slavonic Dances, Op. 46" by Antonin Dvorak (1841 -- 1904). They were off to a good start, demonstrating how hearing a live Orchestra could make the room vibrate with music.

Colorful introductions were given for each of the pieces by WQXR radio personality Robert Sherman. I always find it helpful to hear informative comments pointing out some of the highlights, before the music starts. Sherman effectively combined folksy humor, a bit of poetry, and his straightforward insight to amuse as well as instruct.

Three selections from "Children's Corner" by Claude Debussy (1862 -- 1918), transcribed for Orchestra by Caplet displayed some of the softer tones of the Orchestra. Debussy composed the suite for his 5-year-old daughter Chouchou, describing parts of her world in tone pictures. Drum rolls combined with brass to create grotesque awkwardness in "Golliwogg's Cake Walk."

The winner of this year's annual DSO Student Concerto Competition, Bianca Yuh, provided the musical high point with her sparkling performance of the first movement of "Piano Concerto in g minor" by Felix Mendelssohn (1809 --1847). Her expressive development of lyrical passages blended smoothly with the Orchestra. At 16, Yuh has achieved a high degree of polish in her exciting performance. The only thing she needed any help with was carrying armloads of flowers offstage.

Sherman narrated "The Thrill of the Orchestra" by Russell Peck (b. 1945), explaining how the four sections are organized, and giving demonstrations of what the different instruments look like, how they work, and what they sound like. Clowning around, especially the brass, waving their instruments overhead, and even wearing some of them as hats, the DSO seemed to be having a ball. By the super-duper ending, we could all understand why the sound of an Orchestra is so grand!

The Foster Adoptive Mission provided major funding for the event.

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Music Centre stages festive 'Nutcracker'

By Jan Stribula
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
Dec 10 2006

Snow scene
David Harple
Dancers perform during a dress rehearsal for the Danbury Music Centre presentation of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Ballet” at Danbury High School

DANBURY--The Danbury Music Centre gave a lush and lavish rendering of "The Nutcracker Ballet" on Friday night at the High School, marking the 40th anniversary of a wonderful holiday tradition in the community. Hundreds of people participated in the production, making it possible for thousands to attend and enjoy what has become a high point on many calendars.

The cast of characters included children of all ages (from six to over 70 years old) and they all seemed to be having a ball, dancing, prancing, and making a fairy tale dream come true for a few hours. E.T.A. Hoffmann's story, set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was given the deluxe treatment by the Danbury Music Centre.

Yes, there were quite a few grown ups involved with "The Nutcracker," directing, conducting, choreographing, etc. Doing all of this and then some were Arthur Fredric and his wife, Lisa Denton, who creatively captured the artistic talent of all involved. The costumes, scenery, and special effects were incredible. Everything blended together magically in Tchaikovsky's lusciously scored music, with Richard Price leading the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.

Rat King and Nutcracker
David Harple
The Rat King and the Nutcracker do battle during a dress rehearsal of “The Nutcracker Ballet” at Danbury High School

But the real stars of the show were the kids; most of them still attending school in the area. And there were a lot of them. So many of them, doing so many different things, often at the same time, and the overall effect was positively bursting at the seams with exuberant energy.

In the Arabian dance, 15 year-old Danielle Rose Dorsey was amazing. After poking her hand and foot over the top of her veil, she combined exotic grace, flexibility, and balance until she rolled herself into a tiny ball to be enfolded in the veil. Zach Robinson and the Russian dancers had their arms and legs twirling around in unison at a frantic pace. How do they do that?

Jerry Walton played a cool Uncle Drosselmeyer, the bearer of the best presents.

Megan Schwartz and Kieran Minor combined humor with endearment as Clara and her mischievous brother Fritz. From passing out presents to passing out on the couch with her wounded nutcracker, Schwartz happily floated around the stage in her nightgown all night. Rob Sniffin joined her as Drosselmeyer's handsome nephew, who looked a lot like the Prince later on.

Elizabeth Rose Cox and Peter Nevin did a fine Pas de Deux as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Dew Drop Fairy Tory Senete had a bouquet of beautiful flowers assisting her in some complicated routines.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton had quite a skirtful as Mother Ginger. And those wild Ginger Clowns were a riot. I also noted a few things that didn't happen. The mice didn't trip over their tails, none of the angels lost a halo, and no one knocked over the Christmas tree. Any way you look at it, it was a successful performance.

Anyone who might need a jump-start to get into the spirit of the holidays should attend "The Nutcracker." For over 30 years, it's been the traditional Christmas morning wake up music in our home, and the season wouldn't be the same without it.

  • The year's final performance of "The Nutcracker Ballet" is at 3 p.m. today at Danbury High School. The show is sold out.

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    Community Orchestra tells musical tales in Danbury

    By Jan Stribula
    SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
    Dec 08 2006

    Danbury -- Certain stories just can't be told without music. But sometimes the music is so engaging that it takes on a life of its own. This was the case last Sunday at WestConn where Music Director and Conductor Stephen Michael Smith led the Danbury Community Orchestra in a program where some tales were told without words.

    Donna Locke, a member of Danbury Music Centre's board of directors, said the main requirement was for everyone to have a good time. Mission accomplished, thanks to the talented musicians who put on a good performance mainly because they love doing it.

    They didn't beat around the bushes getting started. "March to the Scaffold" from "Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14" by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) conjured up the nightmarish visions of a heartbroken soul on his way to the gallows. Following the foreboding horns and tympani, the strings joined in the march, section by section with the bassoon bubbling in the background.

    The intensity built up as the brass joined in and you could see a few smiles in the Orchestra. Regardless of the somberness of the story, this piece was fun to both play and listen to.

    Henri Rabaud's Orchestration of "Dolly Suite, Op. 56" by Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) is a collection of reflections from childhood. The flute in the "Berceuse" sounded sweet in the familiar lullaby. The snare drum had crisp entrances in the "Le Pas Espagnol" waltz, while strings and brass played along with continental flair.

    Smith explained some of the struggle behind the story line for "Coriolan Overture, Op. 62" by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). The Orchestra effectively captured the raging emotions in this passionate tale.

    The resolution of the conflict was expressed as the overture ended, not with a crescendo, but with a fade out of the opening three chords repeating as Coriolanus is killed for treason. Not all tales have happy endings.

    Blending modernism with nostalgia, Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) gave a lesson in Polish folklore in his "Mala Suite (Little Suite)." For late 20th century music, the work was instantly accessible and sparkling with energy. Violinist Stanley Chang and the rest of the strings worked well with the woodwinds in the Slavic dance "Taniec."

    Sometimes I have trouble deciding what my favorites are, but without a doubt "Dances from the Bartered Bride" by Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) stood out as the best performance given by the Danbury Community Orchestra.

    More than a Czech opera with an engaging love story, the dances have exotic Bohemian charm with universal appeal. And every section, every member of every section, really sounded good, no -- make that great. Suitable for recording, if Smith ever puts out a greatest-hits CD, this should be on it.

    Santa Smith came back wearing a big red hat for a well-deserved encore, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." Rich, relaxed and resonant, it was a nice arrangement of the old chestnut as we are about knee deep in the holiday season.

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    Danbury Concert Chorus marries poetry and music

    By Jan Stribula
    SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
    Nov 17 2006

    DANBURY -- The marriage of poetry to music by the Danbury Concert Chorus was celebrated last Sunday afternoon at St. Joseph Church. Music Director and Conductor Richard Price combined something old and something new with a selection of poems set to music ranging from the 15th century to modern times.

    The program made a chronological exploration of poems in five thematic sections. Many of the modern compositions were receiving their first performance in Danbury.

    Under the umbrella of the Danbury Music Centre, Nancy and Alton Eckert funded the event.

    I didn't notice any bouquets being tossed around, but Price and the DCC really threw themselves into the performance. We won't say anything about batons here.

    Speaking from the pulpit, Morton Siegel gave readings and introductions for the poetry, previewing the verses before the chorus sang the arrangements. Guest harpist Sara Cutler added some delicate touches with her heavenly instrument. Maxim Vladimiroff provided a fine accompaniment on piano and harpsichord.

    Four anonymous poems were featured in the first section "In the Doggerel House." The opening madrigal "Mother, I Will Have a Husband" was set to music by Thomas Vautor (b.c.1590) with the sopranos wanting good lips to kiss, to kiss, to kiss. . . . Sounds good to me, but tenors beware.

    A small group from the DCC gathered near the harp to form a special chorus for the nostalgic "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen" by Heinrich Isaac (c.1450-1517). Everyone chirped away merrily in "Of All the Birds that I do Know" by John Bartlett (fl.c.1606).

    History was in the making, as Vladimiroff gave the debut performance of the Bettina Baruch Memorial Harpsichord, in "Galiarda" by William Byrd (1543-1623). Fortunately, the recently built Flemish style harpsichord sounded hundreds of years old.

    Price selected two different renderings of the 23rd Psalm attributed to King David in the next section, "In Green Pastures." Sung in Hebrew, "Adonai Ro'i" by Gerald Cohen (b.1960), had all vocalists sounding divinely evocative in their plaintive prayer. Soloists Diana Herstatt and Patricia Scharr added nicely to the full chorus. Sung in English, "The Lord is My Shepherd" by Randall Thompson (1899-1984), evoked a different emotional response to the same psalm, taking another path to get into the house of the Lord.

    Matthew Harris (b.1956) set three Shakespearean songs to different musical styles, beginning with "I Shall No More to Sea" from "The Tempest." This heartbreaking ballad reminded me of "The Jeannie C" by the late Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers. Spirits were quickly lifted in "O Heart" from "Troilus and Cressida," a bouncy doo-wop ditty featuring Brenda Hamilton and Molly Hennon. The 16-part sailors jig "When That I Was and a Little Tiny Boy" from "The Twelfth Night" built up to a climactic crescendo. Hey ho.

    After intermission, "The Music of Stillness" examined some 20th century American poetry set to modern compositions. Frank Ticheli (b.1958) used unusual expansive harmonies in Sara Teasdale's poem "There Will Be Rest." The chorus made statements affirming the simple details of everyday life activities in Jane Kenyon's "Let Evening Come," with spare music by Brian Holmes (b. 1946).

    The final section, "The Dreamers of Dreams," set Arthur O'Shaghnessy's poem to minimalist music by Gwyneth Walker (b.1947) with the stark sounding chorus building up some dramatic dynamics. The popular Appalachian folk hymn "The Water is Wide," by Stephen Paulus (b.1949), had the DCC and bassist Michael Forbes sounding exquisite. With the traditional "An Irish Blessing," By James Moore, Jr. (b.1962), everyone was given a warm send-off.

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    Rudiakov debuts with Danbury Symphony Orchestra

    By Jan Stribula
    SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
    Nov 10 2006

    DANBURY -- The premiere performance of Ariel Rudiakov as music director and conductor of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra was simply marvelous. If last Sunday's concert at Ives Hall on the WestConn campus was any indication of things to come, the two-year selection process recently completed by the Danbury Music Centre was well worth the wait.

    With a rather clever program, Rudiakov conducted an energized orchestra, performing fresh sounding compositions, playing on their own, with talented soloists, and even with some audience participation. In an event fraught with expectations, I think it's safe to say that a good time was had by all.

    Funding for the event was provided by The Center for Human Development, represented by veteran violinist Jacqueline Fusek who encouraged the nurturing of new talent in her gracious remarks.

    Rudiakov brought everyone to their feet several times, starting with a sing-along version of "The Star Spangled Banner" as harmonized and orchestrated by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). Engaging everyone present through music was an inspired approach for a nontraditional rendering of our national anthem.

    The stage was loaded with talent, bringing to bear the combined efforts of three world-class soloists joining the DSO in "Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 56 (Triple Concerto)" by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). The members of the trio were pianist Nelson Padgett, violinist Joana Genova, and cellist David Calhoun. Genova was wearing many hats, as she joined the violists later in the program. She is also Rudiakov's wife.

    Calhoun's cello was made in Milan by Giovanni Grancino in 1696 and has to be a contender for the oldest instrument onstage at Ives Hall. The cello was heard first in each movement of the concerto, giving it a special prominence in the trio.

    The orchestra blended well with the soloists in a sure handed performance of Beethoven. Padgett's piano playing was grand, and in the Allegro, Genova and Calhoun exchanged smiles after nailing an arpeggio together. The trio combined for a brilliant flourish of fortissimo at the finale of the first movement.

    Following intermission, Rudiakov led the DSO in the "Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25" composed by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), as orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951). This was not the usual 12 tone Schoenberg, but more like another Brahms symphony. Right from the opening four-note figure, it sounded like Brahms, but with an interesting edge to it, with slight touches of Schoenberg's tendency toward atonality in places.

    Schoenberg's complex orchestration of the piano quartet gave it a modern style while retaining Brahms' romanticism. Rudiakov harnessed the multitude of sounds and polyphony of tones with the DSO in a crowd-pleasing performance.

    In the rousing finale, the percussive andante con moto was a gypsy dance, and I expected to see a few people get up and start swirling around. I'm sure some were tempted to do so.

    The piece forcefully demonstrated the orchestra's wide range, and gave everyone a chance to shine. At the end, Rudiakov had a lot of hands to shake.

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    David Gale presents daring violin recital

    By Jan Stribula
    SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES
    Nov 03 2006

    DANBURY--Young violinist David Gale and piano accompanist Weicong Zhang presented a fiery recital at the Danbury Music Centre on Saturday night. With some devilishly difficult pieces in their program, they dared to go where many musicians fear to tread.

    Fortunately, they seemed to be having some fun along the way too. In his introduction, John Cherry, secretary for the board of directors of the Danbury Centre, said he hoped everyone would enjoy the performance. Gale and Zhang made that part easy.

    The opening pieces featured Gale as soloist. In the first movement of "Sonata No. 2 for solo violin in A minor, BWV 1003" by J.S. Bach (1685-1750), Gale did some interpretive soul searching, almost like a prayer. He used good bow control in the fugue, developing variations on the theme, as one voice became many.

    The legendary violinist Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) composed "24 Caprices for solo violin, Op. 1" knowing that few, if any, of his contemporaries would be able to perform them. Gale performed two of these technically challenging Caprices (Nos. 20 & 23) with a dazzling display of virtuosity.

    Gale's left hand was moving up and down the neck of his violin, fingers stretching out for double and triple stopping, glissandos, vibratos, what have you. You had to see it, as well as hear it, to believe it.

    Pianist Zhang joined Gale in the opening movements of "Sonata for piano and violin in A Major, K. 305" by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791). Both of them are students at the Manhattan School of Music, and the young musicians played well together in this high spirited but balanced duet. With splendid harmonies and rococo embellishments, the piano and violin accompanied each other with a rich sound in the Marian Anderson Recital Hall.

    Following intermission, they continued in "Sonata No. 5 for violin and piano in F Major, Op. 24" by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), called "Spring" for its lightheartedness. This juxtaposition of pieces in the program showed how Beethoven developed his piano and violin sonatas in the style of Mozart.

    The Scherzo had a musical joke, with the violin playing exactly one beat behind the piano, trying to catch up without succeeding. With sustained lyricism and undulating themes, Zhang and Gale sounded delightful together.

    Most violinists approach Paganini's "Le Streghe, Op. 8" (Witches Dance) with caution if at all. Incredibly demanding, just about everything in their bag of tricks is out in the open. Gale handled the roller coaster ride amazingly well, progressing from the majestic theme to the fireworks at the finale, generating a lot of heat along the way.

    It's quite a treat to get another visit from a 19-year-old who grew up in Ridgefield, and has already been performing all over the world. Later this month, he'll be competing in Moscow. We wish him our best in Russia, and hope to see him again in Danbury.

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