A series of free, repeat FREE, Concerts on the Green presented by CityCenter Danbury got under way on Saturday night with a delightful performance by the Danbury Symphony Orchestra. Music director and conductor Ariel Rudiakov was not the only one disappointed that the program of romantic music under the stars had to relocate under the ceiling of Broadview Middle School.
Andrea Gartner, executive director for CityCenter Danbury, was sorry that Yellow Tail Winery, the sponsor for the event, wasn't able to relocate (and provide refreshments) as easily as the DSO. She won't be the only one hoping to work something out with Yellow Tail for a future event. Nonetheless, the middle school auditorium had dry seats and surprisingly good acoustics for an evening with music from classic films and shows.
With or without wine, the flutes, the winds, the strings, even the brass were all tight in the overture from "Mid Summer Night's Dream," by Felix Mendelsohn. The DSO was off to a good start with the high-spirited flight of fancy. Film noir fans enjoyed the theme from Otto Preminger's "Laura." Lush and full of nostalgia, the only thing missing were clouds of cigarette smoke.
Without a doubt, the collaborations of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein are bound for musical immortality. Rudiakov led the DSO in extended medleys from three of their most popular shows, "King and I," "Carousel," and "Sound of Music." Many familiar tunes flowed into each other with arrangements that featured solos with the orchestra smoothly blending in. Violin, oboe, flute and percussion principals were standouts.
The DSO sounded splendid, gliding through some of the best show tunes ever written. You could hear humming in the audience for many of the songs -- "Hello Young Lovers," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "Climb Every Mountain." The musicians were wearing their hearts on their sleeves for "My Funny Valentine," written by Rodgers with Lorenzo Hart.
Even the brass were well-behaved for the finale of "King and I," but Rudiakov was up to a little mischief switching the order of the program around. They played a lush version of Burt Bacharach's "Alfie" before (not after) the steamy tango "Jealousy," by Danish (not Argentine) composer Jacob Gade.
Rudiakov graciously handed the Golden Baton to Philip Petrosky, this year's silent auction winner. Before leading the musicians in Sousa's "Semper Fidelis March," Petrosky gave the DSO a sincere acknowledgement for continuing to raise the musical bar.
Gartner was happy to announce that CityCenter Danbury has made many improvements for its Concerts on the Green series, including a new band shell, awning, staging, and LED lights.
Bring a picnic and plan on many enjoyable evenings under the stars through Sept. 12. Check the schedule at www.citycenterdanbury.com.
I arrived at St. James Episcopal Church last Saturday early enough to be sure to get a good seat for a special Danbury Music Centre event. I was lucky enough to see music director Richard Price on the podium, directing the Danbury Concert Chorus in their final rehearsal together. Price was adjusting the tempo in order to get the accentuation of a Latin hymn just right. In a few moments, Price would reappear to sing in the bass section for the actual performance. Price was almost unnoticeable without his trademark string tie, blending in with about 130 other musicians. Music directors Ariel Rudiakov and Price have been alternating conducting the annual joint performance of the DCC and Danbury Symphony Orchestra for several years. It was Rudiakov's turn this year, so Price's recent retirement announcement enabled him to go out singing. Everyone I spoke with was singing the praises of Price's eight years with the DMC. At the end of the concert, Thomas Morris, president of the DMC board of directors, honored Price, named him music director emeritus and presented him with a framed replica of the complete works for which he led the DCC. Innovative programs have introduced works ranging from minimalist Arvo Part to bluegrass. I wonder if they remembered to include "The Nutcracker" for the time Price was called out of the audience to fill in for Rudiakov, who was stuck in a snowstorm. Rudiakov said he will sorely miss having Price helping and inspiring him. Nancy Sudik, the DMC's executive director, told me earlier that Price distinguished himself in so many ways that his light will continue to burn brightly. He will be remembered as the consummate professional who innately understood the mission of the DMC and the needs of the community organization. The years of growth and development have been realized in the quality of the music. On Saturday, the combined DCC and DSO gave a moving performance of "Stabat Mater," by Antonin Dvorak (1841--1904). Not known for his choral works, Dvorak certainly rose to the occasion in response to losing all three of his children between 1875 and 1876. Set to a 13th-century Latin poem, the oratorio is an emotional portrayal of the Blessed Mother witnessing her son's crucifixion. Dvorak's music bridges the grieving process, spanning from the incredible heaviness of the opening section to feeling steadfast and fortified in the finale. Four fine soloists brought compelling passion as they wove through the intricate vocal lines. With powerful coloratura, soprano Elisabeth Baer could be heard above the entire assemblage. Tenor Matt Morgan had a pleasing legato and balanced well with Baer in their duets. Mark Uhlemann rose from out of the depths of darkness and despair in his bass solos. Mezzo Rosalie Sullivan's rich voice blended in with the chorus easily, and grew substantially in her solo passages. Emotional waves flooded out of the tabernacle with somber sounds eventually lightening up in the transition from mourning to acceptance and hope. The DCC and DSO hugged the sanctuary walls, coming up to the first pews at St. James, combining for a prayer that could be heard up in the heavens. At the end, Price hugged just about anyone within arm's reach. He told me he will miss everyone, and it's clear that he will truly be missed by all.
I arrived at St. James Episcopal Church last Saturday early enough to be sure to get a good seat for a special Danbury Music Centre event. I was lucky enough to see music director Richard Price on the podium, directing the Danbury Concert Chorus in their final rehearsal together. Price was adjusting the tempo in order to get the accentuation of a Latin hymn just right.
In a few moments, Price would reappear to sing in the bass section for the actual performance.
Price was almost unnoticeable without his trademark string tie, blending in with about 130 other musicians. Music directors Ariel Rudiakov and Price have been alternating conducting the annual joint performance of the DCC and Danbury Symphony Orchestra for several years. It was Rudiakov's turn this year, so Price's recent retirement announcement enabled him to go out singing.
Everyone I spoke with was singing the praises of Price's eight years with the DMC. At the end of the concert, Thomas Morris, president of the DMC board of directors, honored Price, named him music director emeritus and presented him with a framed replica of the complete works for which he led the DCC. Innovative programs have introduced works ranging from minimalist Arvo Part to bluegrass.
I wonder if they remembered to include "The Nutcracker" for the time Price was called out of the audience to fill in for Rudiakov, who was stuck in a snowstorm. Rudiakov said he will sorely miss having Price helping and inspiring him.
Nancy Sudik, the DMC's executive director, told me earlier that Price distinguished himself in so many ways that his light will continue to burn brightly. He will be remembered as the consummate professional who innately understood the mission of the DMC and the needs of the community organization.
The years of growth and development have been realized in the quality of the music. On Saturday, the combined DCC and DSO gave a moving performance of "Stabat Mater," by Antonin Dvorak (1841--1904). Not known for his choral works, Dvorak certainly rose to the occasion in response to losing all three of his children between 1875 and 1876.
Set to a 13th-century Latin poem, the oratorio is an emotional portrayal of the Blessed Mother witnessing her son's crucifixion. Dvorak's music bridges the grieving process, spanning from the incredible heaviness of the opening section to feeling steadfast and fortified in the finale.
Four fine soloists brought compelling passion as they wove through the intricate vocal lines. With powerful coloratura, soprano Elisabeth Baer could be heard above the entire assemblage. Tenor Matt Morgan had a pleasing legato and balanced well with Baer in their duets. Mark Uhlemann rose from out of the depths of darkness and despair in his bass solos. Mezzo Rosalie Sullivan's rich voice blended in with the chorus easily, and grew substantially in her solo passages.
Emotional waves flooded out of the tabernacle with somber sounds eventually lightening up in the transition from mourning to acceptance and hope. The DCC and DSO hugged the sanctuary walls, coming up to the first pews at St. James, combining for a prayer that could be heard up in the heavens.
At the end, Price hugged just about anyone within arm's reach. He told me he will miss everyone, and it's clear that he will truly be missed by all.
In its final concert of the season last Sunday, the Danbury Community Orchestra turned to the bright lights of Broadway with some popular show tunes, along with a few timeless classics. Danbury Music Centre's music director and conductor Stephen Smith was proud to present what the DCO has been working on all year in a thoroughly enjoyable performance at Ives Hall on the campus of Western Connecticut State University.
Approaching the end of the school year, it seemed appropriate to begin with "Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80," by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). The DCO admirably handled the challenges of the complex rhythms and forceful dynamics in the opening piece. Waltzing into the vivace movement from Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, by Antonin Dvorak (1841--1904) made me long for a vacation in Prague.
Smith took a few minutes to acknowledge all of the seniors who will be graduating, many of them going on to study music. You got the sense that they will all miss each other, especially violinist Kendall Peterson, who has served as DCO concertmaster for the last three years.
Peterson and violist Adele Zitzman were featured soloists in the presto from "Sinfonia concertante in E flat major, KV 364," by W.A. Mozart (1756--1791). They rapidly traded the theme back and forth, reaching pleasant harmonies in their duet passages, punctuated by joyous sounds of the horns.
Over the years, Smith has conducted the DCO in many of the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770--1827). Springing into action, the entire orchestra pounced on the second movement of Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, especially the thundering tympani.
They spontaneously rearranged the internal structure of the piece into a musical gift that kept on giving. Chugging right along, leaving any minor miscues or repeated sections in the dust, the DCO avoided any train wrecks, and remarkably nobody got hurt. Beethoven's 9th is always worth repeating.
The 70-piece orchestra made some of the greatest show tunes ever sound even grander than on Broadway. Selections from "South Pacific," by Richard Rogers (1902--1979), had the brass blaring in "Bloody Mary" and "There is nothing like a dame." Lush strings gave the deluxe treatment to "Some Enchanted Evening."
For the most part, the music of "South Pacific" doesn't capture the intense racial tension at the heart of the story. Such is not the case with "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein (1918 1990). With Latin rhythms and heartfelt tenderness, they played a few highlights including "Maria" and "Tonight."
For their powerhouse finale, the orchestra played selections from "Phantom of the Opera," by Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948). The percussive backbeat added a lot of pizzazz for the arrangement, and some nice piano, flute and clarinet work helped wrap it all up with "Music of the Night."
Smith and the DCO have come a long way in their six years together, giving local musicians an opportunity to play major classical and popular compositions for the benefit of the entire community. I'm already looking forward to what next season brings.
Saturday evening at the Danbury Music Centre was billed as "Amy Selig and Friends," and the versatile string player brought quite a crowd with her. Like an intimate musical soiree, the concert offered ever-shifting groups of players and instruments playing whole pieces or individual movements.
Selig plays violin and cello, but says it's the viola that's nearest to her heart and it came to the fore in this program. Another theme was pieces for two or more of the same instrument, where the players had to both blend their voices and make them stand out.
Starting out was Telemann's Concerto for Two Violas. Selig and fellow violist Lisa Schuldt played as one, in an incisive, rhythmically secure performance.
She and Schuldt were joined by Alison Corigliano to play "Arch," for three violas, by the contemporary Australian composer Robert Davison. Each clearly drew out the syncopated canonic theme with a rhythmic bite that clarified the texture. Propulsive motor rhythms dominated the middle section, from which individual lines emerged again and all joined for a splashy ending. Occasional tuning problems aside, it was a convincing performance of a most attractive piece.
Selig switched instruments to play Haydn's Trio for Three Cellos with Laura Flachbart and Birgit Kovacs. The players brought a surprising variety of tone to the piece, bringing out distinct parts from the rich, mellow overall sound. The minuet and its trio were particularly affecting, and the busy finale showed off the composer's famous good cheer.
Talk about versatility -- Kovacs put down her cello and joined Richard Gosnay for the allegro from Mozart's Sonata Duo for two trombones. Their tone and intonation were well-matched, he playing agile melodic lines over her solid bass.
Selig's viola introduced us to Alessandro Rolla, a contemporary of Mozart whose Sonata for Violin and Piano got a nimble reading with Robert Catalano, a very capable pianist. They also played "The Bee," a showy vehicle by Franz Schubert -- not the famous one, but another 19th-century German -- and she offered Paul Hindemith's Sonata for Solo Viola in an agile, expressive performance.
A conventional grouping played Selig's own String Quartet, subtitled "Victory." In a language that hints at Haydn, the piece started with animated dialogue for first and second violins (the composer switched to first violin for this piece); themes of struggle and disagreement yielded to a slower section that moved toward concord and all was resolved as the opening material returned in the finale.
Flautist David Markowitz played with a sweet, bright tone, sensitive trills and a shaped line, well matched by Selig on viola, in the Duo by another Mozart peer, Franz Anton Hoffmeister. The allegro from Dvorak's "American" quartet was full of character and folkish charm.
Vincent d'Indy's jaunty "Rondo Francaise" from his Suite in Olden Style, in a scoring for two flutes (James Caufield joined the ensemble), string sextet and trombone brought the gang together for a spirited finale to an evening of music-making that was great fun.
It was a musical marathon presented by the Danbury Music Centre last Sunday at Ives Hall on the campus of Western Connecticut State University. Ariel Rudiakov was on or near the podium directing and performing with the Danbury Symphony Orchestra in a solid show of stamina.
The program opened with Rudiakov playing viola with his wife Joana Genova on violin in Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, by Mozart (1756--1791). Steven Michael Smith served as guest conductor, leading the DSO in a work that contained elements of both a symphony and a double concerto. Throughout the piece there was an operatic dialogue between violin and viola with many duets. The conversations began amicably, often in a call and response nature, characterized by smooth entrances of the soloists. Pairs of horns and oboes blended well with strings. The mood became tender in the heartfelt andante, and culminated in a climactic coda.
Following lots of hugs and kisses, Rudiakov took control of the podium to conduct the DSO in the rustic Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11, by Brahms (1833--1897). The orchestra was amplified with many more brass, winds and tympani on stage for the felicitous joy ride. Clarinet and bassoon principals were standouts in the idyllic menuetto parts. Strings held generally together as they romped along in the romantic rondo.
Following a well-deserved break for intermission, they returned for a strong rendering of Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, by Tchaikovsky (1840--1893). The brass section was in full force in the hands of fate from the opening fanfare to the finale. Considerable credit goes to all the strings, rising to the occasion with lush sounds. The woodwinds waltzed into the second theme, as the tympani maintained a steady cadence in the background. Winds were more cohesive and strings richer in the recapitulations of their themes.
The second movement began with a melancholy oboe theme that eventually worked through the strings and winds. The airy pizzicato ostinato in the scherzo had a rarified lightness, like tiptoeing through a cloud.
The final movement featured an augmented percussion section, helping with the dynamic contrasts. Trombones, tubas, trumpets and horns brought back the inescapable fateful theme with a vengeance. Showing true grit going well into their third hour on stage, the musicians were all remarkable in the long-distance program. At the finish you could see satisfaction in the expressions of the members of the orchestra from the immediate, sustained standing ovation they received.
Nestled deep in the woodwinds, the bassoon rarely gets everyone's complete and undivided attention. Bassoonist Kim Lemak turned that unseemly tendency on its head last Sunday with the Danbury Community Orchestra. In a concert presented by the Danbury Music Centre at Western Connecticut State University's Ives Hall, she demonstrated many of the possibilities of this special instrument.
In recent years, Danbury Music Centre's music director and conductor, Stephen Michael Smith, has given such attention to the viola and English horn. This year the bassoon was introduced by Lemak with a brief history of the double reed. She gave a deft performance of the bubbly Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major, K. 191, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 -- 1791). The distinctive tonalities ranged from smooth and sonorous to plaintive and penetrating.
The concert was a joint venture of the DCO and the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra. Music director and conductor Glen Lebetkin led DPSO in a wide range of challenging works for the talented young members in the string ensemble. They played a spirited "Danza Final," by Alberto Ginestera (1916 -- 1983), and a medley of Beatles' tunes, rocking into "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
They were all warmed up and cooking on the front burner for a modern rendering of the Greek myth "Perseus," by Korean composer Soon Hee Newbold (b. 1974). Violins created some high- voltage excitement as the ancient hero slew Medusa and rescued Andromeda.
The intergenerational assemblage of DCO and DPSO had more than 100 musicians combined in an arrangement of excerpts from Symphony No. 9, Op. 95 (from the "New World Symphony"), by Antonin Dvorak (1841 -- 1904). Smith was literally surrounded by strings, but the brass really powered the popular themes.
Variations by Johannes Brahms (1833 -- 1897) provided musical bookends for the concert. Smith and DCO opened the program with a selection of Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, based on the Austrian pilgrim song "St. Anthony Chorale." The contrapuntal fourth variation had the full orchestra in fine form.
The concert closed with the 32 variations contained in the final movement of Brahms' final symphony, a true masterpiece. Smith led in a deliberate tempo, keeping the orchestra focused on its wondrous journey through the majestic development of the theme.
With some carefully chosen material, Smith and Lebetkin knew how to push the envelope of their groups' musical abilities while providing good listening for the audience.
Budding music students from Danbury High School got a preview of what performing at college might be like last Sunday. A leaking roof at the high school resulted in everyone moving to the campus of Western Connecticut State University. The Danbury Music Centre and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra collaborated with many talented students from the DHS Symphonic Band and the DHS Orchestra.
The program opened with Paul Riley directing the DHS Symphonic Band in a rousing rendition of "Rodeo," by Aaron Copland (1900--90). The brass and wind ensemble even had a baritone sax for the barnyard dance. A strong percussion section held everyone together at a snappy pace.
Ives Hall was nearly filled with a cross- section of music lovers of all ages, spanning from rock `n' roll to the rocking chair. The scene was alive with an abundance of activity during and between pieces. DSO music director and conductor Ariel Rudiakov provided anecdotal nuggets of information between acts.
As two grand pianos were being rolled on stage, Rudiakov told the history of "Carnival of the Animals," by Camille Saint-Saens (1835--1921). Many students from the DHS Orchestra joined the DSO for the musical satire. Richard Price narrated poems by Bruce Adolphe, updating Ogden Nash's original doggerel. Pianists Marcia Klebanow and Christopher Locke combined comic lines with elegance, capturing the personalities of about a dozen different animals. They hunkered down with the basses for a pachydermal duet in "The Elephant," and hopped up and down the keyboards in "The Kangaroo."
In "The Tortoises," the strings played the slowest can-can known to man. The clarinet made the most of the two notes allotted in "The Cuckoo," and fluttering flute flew above strings in "The Aviary." Cellos were in fine form in "The Swan."
After a brief intermission, cellist Nicholas Heinzmann demonstrated why he was the winner of last year's Student Concerto Competition, performing the allegro from Antonin Dvorak's (1841--1904) Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. After an extended introduction by the DSO, Heinzmann rose from the lower range progressing through emotional turbulence with assurance. I wanted to hear more.
Price returned as narrator for the DSO in a delightful performance of "Peter and the Wolf," by Sergei Prokofiev (1891--1953). Price met the dramatic demands of the tale providing incredible vocal variety for all of the characters. At times, he was smiling like the cat that swallowed the canary, although that part really belonged to the menacingly cool clarinet. The woodwinds were wonderful throughout, and in the role of the wolf, the horns were enough to scare the pants off poor Peter. I don't want to talk about what happened to the duck.
Thoroughly enjoyed by all, I could hear a few people whistling Peter's theme while walking out of Ives Hall.
Music Centre’s ‘Messiah’ finds a new home
The Danbury Music Centre has been offering Handel’s “Messiah” at Christmas for more than 50 years, but Friday night was the first time at the First Congregational Church in Danbury. The 100-year-old church is a welcoming space for the great oratorio, with acoustics to please the ear and lots of architectural detail to engage the eye.
The Danbury Concert Chorus and Baroque Chamber Orchestra, under music director Richard Price, delivered a powerful and sensitive performance.
Fashions in “Messiah” performance have changed over the years and this concert reflected that.
Tempos were fast and articulations were clear.
The soloists all added ornaments to their lines, especially in repeated sections. The small orchestra played in the same spirit, starting with a brisk overture full of rhythmic and dynamic accentuation.
Space is tight at the front of the church, so Price had to position soprano and alto sections in opposing side balconies. The distance didn’t seem to affect the ensemble. Price kept things together and the sound surrounded us, helping to create a sense of drama and clearly delineate the lines.
The great choruses were well-prepared, articulate and powerful. “And He shall purify” showed how the chorus could deliver both long sustained lines and intricate passage work.
Amid the rich, full choral sound, Price underlined details with special care, such as an emphatic “Behold” in “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion” and a climactic “Prince of Peace” in “For unto us a Child is born.” The fast tempos occasionally took their toll on articulation and ensemble, such as in the bravura “His yoke is easy” chorus. In “All we like sheep,” though, the intricate runs and varied textures came through well and the quietly dying out closing was a strikingly effective contrast. The “Hallelujah” brought the packed house to its feet, as usual, and the chorus had plenty of energy for the closing “Worthy is the Lamb,” sounding especially sensitive to the words and to the power of the message. Price built up the “Amen” from a dignified start to a rousing finish.
The tenor soloist Philip Anderson sang with fine dynamic control and agility in “Every valley” and “Thou shalt break them.”
His voice is light, but focused and fit comfortably in the hall. The bass-baritone Jack Brown opened with a dramatic “Thus saith the Lord” and seemed to warm up to more intricate passages as he went along.
He and the orchestra were well matched in their phrasing and rhythmic grace in “But who may abide.” The angular lines of “The people that walked in darkness” and the stentorian “The trumpet shall sound” showed him off to good effect.
The mezzo-soprano Kirsten Sollek sang with a warm, dark tone and dramatic flair. Her poignant “He was despised,” with an especially stern and angry middle section and effective ornamentation, was a standout. The soprano Jane-Anne Tucker’s “Come unto Him” and “I know that my Redeemer liveth” showed clarity of tone and rhythmic assurance, if a bit of fragility at the top of her range.
Nutcracker Ballet heralds holiday season in Danbury
Granted, it's not humanly possible to do everything you want during the holiday season. Be that as it may, thousands of people managed to squeeze the Danbury Music Centre's production of "The Nutcracker Ballet" into their busy schedules last weekend.
Since 1967 this annual extravaganza has grown and grown and almost outgrown the three days allotted it at the huge auditorium at Danbury High School. It really seems like anyone who has seen it wants to see it again. Anyone who hasn't seen it should. I was able to attend last Saturday's performance, and the ballet was also presented on Friday and Sunday.
Perhaps what's most impressive about the DMC "Nutcracker" is that no matter how many times they've done it, each year brings many new costumes, sets, choreography and performers.
Hundreds of participants can be seen and heard onstage, but there's even more action going on behind the scenes. The lion's share of logistics leading up to the event is more than capably handled by DMC Executive Director Nancy Sudik. Both Sudik and her husband Walter also perform in the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.
At 6-foot-4, Music Director Ariel Rudiakov doesn't ordinarily need a podium when he conducts the DSO. Seated on a stool, Rudiakov could still see through snowflakes and smoke, even with their unusual seating pattern, and a few specialty instruments (celeste, bass clarinet and two harps).
The music certainly stands on its own, and the DSO gave a fine rendering of Tchaikovsky's magnificent score, but they were merely the background for the ballet. Unfortunately, after all their preparation, members of the orchestra don't get to enjoy what's happening onstage.
Once again, Artistic Director Arthur Fredric and his wife, co-director and choreographer Lisa Denton, truly out-did themselves. Amid hundreds of dancers scampering around, set changes went off like clockwork.
The cast included many "Nutcracker" veterans, like Jerry Walton, as ever so suave as Uncle Drosselmeyer; Zach Thomas as the Cavalier and dozens of aspiring young dancers working their way up the ranks from mice, clowns, and angels to lead roles. I still don't know how the snowflake dancers manage to stay on their toes.
Playing Clara, Kaitlin Lipner displayed agility and grace, joining her Prince, Ryan Bulson, in many splashy dance routines. As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mariel Vicente was absolutely dazzling. Dew Drop Fairy Shannon DePaul was surrounded by flowering ballerinas in a quintessential lush Tchaikovsky waltz. Arabian Queen Jackie D'Aquila was joined by her sister Jessica, along with three other exotic dancers in the Arabian Court.
And for sure, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is still living large as Mother Ginger, aiding and abetting skateboarding clowns and hat thieves. It takes all kinds.
Whether you need a jump-start to get into the seasonal swing of things, or just want to experience total escape for a few hours, you don't have to venture too far or spend too much to enjoy one of the finest productions of "The Nutcracker" around. The Danbury Music Centre safely stakes its reputation on it.
Music director and conductor Stephen Michael Smith led the Danbury Community Orchestra in a program that demonstrated the diversity of colors and climates that different composers have created. The Danbury Music Centre presented the concert last Sunday at Ives Hall on the campus of Western Connecticut State University.
The event featured compositions by the three B's -- not the usual suspects, but Borodin, Bizet, and, yes, Beethoven. Smith and the DCO continue to do well using segments of popular, but challenging works that raise the bar for some of the musicians, giving them an opportunity to delve into some major works.
They opened with the capricious 1st movement from Symphony No. 8 in F Major, by Ludwig van Beethoven. Full of gaiety, the orchestra was quite effective overall, but had minor weakness exposed in some sections.
In sharp contrast, the finale from Peter I. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") was full of sadness and heavy emotions. The DCO had good control of dynamics, building up to turbulence on the tympani, and gradually fading away in the diminuendo at the coda.
Georges Bizet's Carmen Suite No. 1 made for an acoustical proving ground for the entire orchestra and had many splendid solos for the woodwinds. With pizzicato (plucked) strings in the background of the intermezzo, the flute and clarinet were divine. Crashing cymbals and trombones kept time for exotic dances and grand marches of "Les Toreadors," filling Ives Hall with the warmth of sunny Spain. The suite should be considered a candidate for the DCO's greatest hits CD.
Smith shifted the thermostat all the way down, traveling to chilly Russia with "In the Steppes of Central Asia," by Alexander Borodin. The change in climate may have affected some of the reeds. After some miscues, they regrouped and the melodic caravan emerged out of the frozen tundra relatively intact.
They ended with an assortment of romantic themes in the last two movements of Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 4 in D minor. The scherzo had nautical rhythms going adrift in places, but they pulled together for the exciting conclusion.
Following an enthusiastic ovation, Smith led them in an encore, playing Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," with all the appropriate percussive props. After the show, I wistfully missed the melted snow.
With some new faces joining the DCO, Smith provides a wonderful opportunity for all musicians in the area to perform in a symphonic venue. Major funding for the event was provided by the Hand Center of Western Connecticut.
Danbury Concert Chorus brings Walden Pond to life
Listening to a new piece of music is like meeting someone for the first time, says Richard Price, Danbury Concert Chorus music director.
Listening once is like knocking on the door and saying hello. Listen again and you're walking into the house and having a look around. You "make even better friends" with the piece, Price says.
So when the Danbury Concert Chorus presented the world premiere of Maxim Vladimiroff's "Walden" Saturday at St. James Episcopal Church in Danbury, they performed it twice.
When cornerstone works of the classical repertoire, such as like the Beethoven symphonies were written, such repeats were common practice, as Price told the audience.
Reviving the practice made great sense, especially with the composer there to explain and demonstrate some of its key features. It's an attractive, affecting piece, with motives that stick in the ear and tone painting that matches the vividness of its text, which is drawn from the journals of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond.
The piece, for chorus, baritone, piano and strings, opens with a text about nature awakening in spring, and the chorus tosses around figures, evoking the cacophony of birdsong in the woods. The repetitive effects are mesmerizing, until the robin calls and all settles down quietly.
The excellent baritone soloist, Robert Honeysucker, sang with rhythmic flexibility and sensitivity to the text in the second movement, during which a plaintive cello solo enhanced the atmosphere. In the first performance, Honeysucker read additional texts by Thoreau between movements. The readings fit well with the piece, though they were not always completely intelligible. The hall's dry acoustic or the speaker's placement on the floor may have been to blame. The fourth movement sings of "brilliant autumnal colors," and Honeysucker's ringing, steely tone painted the picture well.
Sweet harmonies and stretched phrases luxuriate in words like "Nymphaea odorata" in the third movement. One of Thoreau's texts remarks on the "sonorousness" of nature, the wonder of its sounds, and Vladimiroff clearly took inspiration there. The fifth movement combines a tenor line that recalls ancient chant with freely-improvised, aleatoric (driven by chance) lines and whispered speech. The finale's flitting piano part evokes the running brook of the text and also somehow its iciness. Full-throated polyphony thins out to simpler textures and a quiet close.
Vladimiroff's remarks explained his use of word painting and compared the combining of different voice parts entering at different times to life itself, the way people are born and die all the time, their lives overlapping -- a nice image. Each effect that he explained he illustrated with the chorus singing excerpts. The second time around you really could catch more, and the chorus sounded more secure as well.
Vladimiroff, the group's regular accompanist, is a fine pianist and the Danbury Symphony Chamber Players played well. Price and the chorus served the piece well -- we were introduced, we got to know it a bit and came away feeling as if we had made a new friend.
I realize that I risk being run out of town by asking the unanswerable question: "Is the music of Charles Ives a trick or a treat?" Perhaps it's a little of both. The answer lies in the ears of the listener. Ives (1874 -- 1954) encouraged his listeners to stretch their ears, and provided many challenging opportunities with compositions incorporating everything from folkish simplicity to dissonance, often at the same time.
The Danbury Music Centre commemorates Ives Day every year with a hike up Pine Mountain, where Ives frequented, visits to his home and grave, and a recital by the Rag Tag Players. This year's celebration had music director and conductor Ariel Rudiakov taking the Danbury Symphony Orchestra on a musical journey that included an astonishingly well-executed performance of Ives' "Symphony No. 2." The confluence of events culminated last Sunday at (you guessed it) Ives Hall at Western Connecticut State University.
Perhaps more ingenious than enjoyable, Ives embedded dozens of musical quotations into the piece. In her scholarly program notes, Danbury Music Centre's executive director, Nancy Sudik, listed a sampling of more than 40 borrowed songs found in the symphony. Ives was all over the musical map. For example, a trombone popping off with "Camptown Races" was followed by a brief, but fully orchestrated rendition of many more snippets of sound, like channel surfing.
Unfettered by all the activity, Rudiakov dauntlessly persevered through to the Bronx cheer at the finale, mercifully not prolonging the last chord. Loaded with musicological jokes, I have to admire the members of the DSO who managed to maintain their composure.
The concert opened on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, with "Hebrides Overture (Fingal's cave), Op. 26," one of my favorite works by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47). The themes were rolling back and forth across the strings, like waves moving in the open seas. Tympani drum rolls and dynamic action in the brass harnessed incredible energy, creating the feeling of a stormy holiday off the Scottish coast. Clarinets played the lyrical second theme beautifully. This was a splendid display of how well the DSO can sound.
Continuing with some more nationalistic music from the British Isles, they played "Enigma Variations, Op. 36," by Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934). The enigma refers to trying to identify who Elgar had in mind for the 14 variations, portraying some of his friends and family. The unifying theme was adopted to capture each of the personalities in Elgar's social circle, with the woodwinds serving in a multitude of roles. Variation IX, "Nimrod," has become popular on its own and is sometimes used at memorial services and solemn occasions, the tenderness dramatically developed by the strings.
Starting his fourth season with the DSO, Rudiakov continues to do well, taking the orchestra on challenging musical adventures. It's nice to go along for the ride.