The News-Times

Concert Reviews
For The 2010 – 2011 Season

Past Reviews

David Gale Benefit, Saturday Oct. 23rd

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday, Nov. 6th

Danbury Concert Chorus, Sunday, Nov. 14th

Danbury Community Orchestra, Dec. 5th

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet, 2010

Handel's Messiah, Friday, Dec. 17th

Young People's Concert, Sunday, Jan. 23rd

Danbury Concert Chorus, Saturday Mar. 5th

DCO & DPSO, Sunday, Mar. 6th

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday, Mar. 13th

Alice Pantone Unschuld, Saturday, Apr. 2nd

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday, May 1st

Danbury Concert Chorus, Saturday May 7th

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Saturday, May 14th

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Romance, remembrance and reformation with the Danbury Symphony Orchestra

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Danbury Music Centre presented the final concert in its 75th anniversary season Saturday, exploring themes of romance, remembrance and reformation with the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.

The concert took place at Western Connecticut State University. From my favorite vantage point up in the balcony of Ives Hall, music director Ariel Rudiakov and the DSO displayed why they are considered to be the crown jewel of Danbury.

Some of the credit has to be shared with the composers. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was able to balance the passion of young lovers and the bitter hatred of a family feud in "Romeo and Juliet Overture -- Fantasy." From the opening notes, Rudiakov charismatically led the DSO through the inspired orchestration, starting with the clarinets and bassoons.

Tension continued to build until brass and percussion brought the orchestra to life in the first main theme. Yes, the strings were swooning with the passionate theme of the star-crossed lovers, yes, yes. After some more feuding and passion, they came to the funeral march at the tragic coda. I don't have to tell anyone how this story ends.

Soprano Katrina Thurman won everyone over in her nostalgic return to childhood in "Knoxville: Summer 1915," by Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Thurman had a dramatically endearing presence as her luxurious voice gave life to the lyric rhapsody based on a prose poem written by James Agee. As she sang of her losses with tenderness, her delivery was impeccable. The orchestra evoked an enchanted atmosphere, rocking on the back porch, riding along on a street car, or venturing into the backyard at night. Sparkling, lithe and willowy (Thurman is almost as tall as Rudiakov), she gave a dreamlike quality to Barber's music.

After a brief intermission, Rudiakov led the DSO in Symphony No. 5. Op. 107 ("The Reformation"), by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). The work ruminates on some of the feelings surrounding the Protestant Reformation 300 years earlier. Not at all satisfied with his own writing, Mendelssohn supposedly would have preferred the piece tossed in his fireplace. Fortunately the piece has survived for posterity.

The first movement had stern brass making a majestic statement over ethereal strings. Woodwinds and pastoral strings lightened things up nicely in the second movement. The Lutheran chorale "A Mighty Fortress is Our Lord" echoed through the final movements, fortified with some fine flute work.

After five seasons, Rudiakov and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra have come a long way in their musical development. Still growing stronger after 75 seasons, the Danbury Music Centre continues to outdo itself, providing a wide range of events throughout the year for the community to participate in and enjoy.

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Shepard leads Danbury Concert Chorus well

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Monday, May 9, 2011

Guest conductor Chris Shepard explored three centuries of choral music with the Danbury Concert Chorus last Saturday at First Congregational Church. Shepard is the third and final candidate in Danbury Music Centre’s yearlong search for a new music director for the DCC. His program displayed the wide range of material he can readily draw from, and he demonstrated his attention to detail while conducting.

Accompanying the chorus on piano were the steadfast and versatile Max Vladimiroff, with Kathleen Theisen. Vladimiroff’s clever arrangement for four hands gave new life to the opening chorus of “Sleepers Wake” by J.S. Bach (1685-1750). All four vocal sections sang clearly as the melody played against itself in different variations, as in many of Bach's cannons and fugues. They followed with flowing melodic lines surging with excitement in “Magnificat”, written by his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). Shepard's first section, “The Age of Enlightenment”, ended with a comic battle of the sexes in "Harmony in Marriage" by Franz Josef Haydn (1712-1809).

As the "Revolutions and Romanticism" section opened, Vladimiroff got to relax while the basses were resonating in the a cappella Russian hymn “Bless the Lord, 0 My Soul” by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanoff (1859-1935). The entire chorus sounded beautiful in a simple evening prayer from "Hansel and Gretel", by Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1891), evoking 14 protecting angels bringing the sleeping children up to heaven. Lively section work and sure-handed direction sparked "There Shall a Star from Jacob" by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), a Nativity song from the unfinished oratorio "Christus".

In the final section, "The American Century," Shepard was delighted to be in Danbury conducting a piece by Charles Ives (1874-1954). “Circus Band” had a high-spirited college boy feeling, and an off-color fixation on a lady in pink. DCC effectively turned the harmonic challenges of Samuel Barber (1910-1981) into warmth in the modern sounding “Sure on this Shining Night.” Powerful and stern, “The Last Words of David” by Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was immediately accessible.

The concert ended with three diverse portraits of America by Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Sopranos sounded pleasant in the gospel hymn "At the River." Altos, basses, and even the tenors built up strength in "The Promise of Living" from “The Tender Land.” They ended on a high note with swift cadences and driving rhythms in the rousing square dance "Stomp Your Foot." Shepard showed his talent in an enthusiastic performance with the Danbury Concert Chorus.

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Community Orchestra ends season with show stoppers

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2011

With a program full of musical drama and famous finales, the Danbury Community Orchestra gave a strong crowd-pleasing performance last Sunday at Ives Hall on the downtown campus of Western Connecticut State University. In its final concert of the season, it was easy to see that Danbury Music Centre's music director and conductor, Stephen Michael Smith, was proud of how well DCO members have met all the challenges he's presented them with this year -- Beethoven, Brahms and even Stravinsky.

The concert opened with "The Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave)," by Felix Mendelssohn, set in the Scottish Isles. The themes captured the ocean's fury, with waves crashing against the rocky coast. I know I'm dating myself by relating the music to the chase scenes from "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon." On King!

Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is music you can feel pulsating through your whole body. With muscular brass, especially trombones, the DCO played the final movement of the piece. Strings and clarinets made a subtle restatement of the opening dit, dit, dit, dah -- telegraphing Morse code for the letter V for victory! All were unified in the long strong coda, and its many false endings.

A medley of high-kicking numbers from the Broadway show "A Chorus Line," by Marvin Hamlisch, was full of hustle and bustle, tap dancing via wooden blocks, and of course "One."

The music from "Man of La Mancha," written by Mitch Leigh, features nonstop show stoppers. The arrangements brought Don Quixote's quest back to life again, with castanets and Mariachi brass. Strings softly shifted into Dulcinea, while muted trumpet and flutes helped Sancho. Some nice horn work led into the rousing finale, "The Impossible Dream."

The concert ended with the gorgeous finale from Symphony in D minor by Cesar Franck. The difficult composition combined German romanticism and French styles. Bassoons and strings had a joyous opening, with upbeat brass pouring it on. Thematic development had a Wagnerian complexity, eventually ending with an exhilarating recapitulation. Smith and the orchestra maintained good control of dynamics, developing crescendos with heroic effort.

Over the years, Smith has developed strong connections with the musicians in DCO, helping develop their musical skills. He introduced five departing members. I'm sure they will all miss each other, playing together in a community orchestra that has performed a good deal of fine music.

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Song recital ranges far and wide

By Gilbert Mott
Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2011

Soprano Alice Pantone Unschuld's recital at the Danbury Music Centre Saturday night offered variety in time, place of origin, and language. Touching some familiar bases as well as hitting some spots off the beaten track, she gave us a tour of the song, and the large audience in Marian Anderson Recital Hall enjoyed the ride.

Unschuld teaches music in the Naugatuck schools and communicating is clearly a strength. Starting with an appropriate tribute to the great singer for whom the venue is named, she spoke throughout the program, explaining the background and texts of each piece. Unschuld also took advantage of the intimate setting to draw her audience in, making us feel a part of the program.

She started in traditional art song territory with a group of four songs by Schubert. Unschuld has a bright pearly tone that is strongest in its higher ranges. She knows how to tell a story in song, as in the tale of the trout in "Die Forelle." "Du bist die Ruh" had a fine feeling for line and a good dynamic build.

Next she sang songs by Gabriel Faure. The rhythmic sway of her singing in "Au bord de l'eau" evoked the flowing stream of the text. Her bright vocal colors served the music well.

It was then on to opera, starting with Handel's "Piangero la sorte mia" from "Julius Caesar." With good legato style at the start, she captured the shift in mood and managed the rapid coloratura passages well. She showed a fine sense of drama and a ringing top register.

Mozart's "Deh vieni non tardar" from "The Marriage of Figaro" had a rhythmic lilt and a tender close and she blossomed nicely into the dramatic "Mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's "La Boheme."

Unschuld added an unusual spin in the second half with a group of 20th century Latin American songs. Distinctive rhythms and tinges of folk music united an interesting, diverse set of four songs from four countries. She floated the smooth melodic line of Jaime Leon's "La Campesina" (Colombia) over the piano's Latin beat.

"La hija del Viejo Pancho," by Ernesto Cordero of Puerto Rico, called on her lower register more than most of the night's songs, and she gave it an earthy color, well-suited to its story of life on the farm. "La Gitana" by the Chilean Juan Orrego-Salas, had a freely rhythmic vocal line. Her gentle touch with the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce's "Palomita" was dove-like, in keeping with its theme.

Popular American music closed off the recital, including the singer's bluesy inflections in "God Bless the Child." Her rendition of "Good Morning Baltimore," from "Hairspray," finished off the journey in style. Carl Tichler was a capable accompanist on the piano and got his own chance in the spotlight with the slow movement from Brahms' Sonata No. 3 just before intermission.

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Many maestros help celebrate Danbury Music Centre's 75th anniversary

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2011

Former, present, and perhaps future maestros of the Danbury Music Centre gathered to celebrate its 75th anniversary last Sunday with a concert that included something from just about everyone.

President Tom Morris gave a brief history lesson, noting that DMC founder Donald Tweedy had a vision of a community of musicians. Earlier in the week I spoke with DMC Executive Director Nancy Sudik, who was pleased to report that Tweedy's vision in 1935 is still being realized.

Looking quite dapper in his trademark string tie with tails, it was good to see music director emeritus Richard Price open the concert leading the Danbury Concert Chorus and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra in a rousing rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah." Trumpets and sopranos began with power and glory, while steadfast accompanist Max Vladimiroff gave his fingers a rest, joining the basses.

Yet another music director emeritus, James Humphreville, conducted the DSO in Otto Nicolai's popular "Merry Wives of Windsor" overture. After the staid introduction, woodwinds brought on the high jinks, with all joining in the festivities. Humphreville gave a taste of how he will lead the DSO at its upcoming "An Evening in Vienna" with "Kaiser-Waltzer (Emperor Waltz)," by Johann Strauss Jr., scrumptious as a Sacher torte. Humphreville navigated through passages with a sure hand as strings glided along grandly.

After the waltz, current DSO music director Ariel Rudiakov left the viola section and took control of the podiumless podium. In his fifth season with DMC, Rudiakov has made some great strides helping nurture the abundant talent of local musicians. They performed Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, Beethoven's inspirational affirmation of spirit. The music was a heady mix of complex emotional material as Beethoven galloped along at full tilt, brushing aside all obstacles, including his deafness. Thundering tympani powered the DSO as it charged through its forceful performance.

Following intermission, a colorfully garbed Ase-AmenRa Kariamu, director of DMC's summer Afrikan drumming program, woke everybody up, playing a brief prelude. From strong rim shots to gentle rhythmic tapping, he created an amazing assortment of sounds from a single drum.

The DSO, reinforced with about 10 potential future members currently with the Danbury Community Orchestra, ended the concert with three selections from "The Planets," by Gustav Holst. The brass section was at full strength as it hammered out a gripping delivery of Mars, the bringer of war. Harp and celeste helped lighten the mood with Venus, the bringer of peace. Jupiter, the bringer of jollity, made for a regal finale with a touch of "Star Wars," and is great music to end a concert or open a wedding.

Danbury Music Centre can be proud of its 75 years of bringing the community together through the love of music.

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'Firebird' finale ignites Community Orchestra

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011

With his selection of ever challenging works, music director and conductor Stephen Michael Smith is not reluctant to raise the bar for the Danbury Community Orchestra. Choosing something, anything by Stravinsky, is daring enough, but at last Sunday's concert the DCO ignited to give a glowing performance of "Berceuse and Finale" from "The Firebird."

Popular perception of Stravinsky's music has come a long way since it premiered about a century ago, when rioting broke out regularly. The large audience at Ives Hall at Western Connecticut State University was reasonably well-behaved for the event presented by the Danbury Music Centre.

Rising from the depths, plaintive bassoon, oboe, and horn imparted an otherworldly eeriness, cautiously approaching the string section before they burst into one of the most spectacular passages ever written.

The program began with Saint-Saens' enchanting "Dance Bacchanale" from "Samson and Delilah." Woodwinds were superb as tympani propelled the brass, building up with swaying syncopated exotica, coming to a swirling finish.

Soloists Peter Ballantoni and Art Anderson rose to the occasion for brilliant runs in Vivaldi's Concerto in C for Two Trumpets. Flashy fanfares marked the outer movements, and concertmaster Benjamin Altman gave a brief solo in the largo, but something seemed missing. Could it be the two trumpets?

The concert also featured the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra led by music director and conductor Glen Lebetkin. Just watching the facial expressions of the young and young-at-heart musicians was priceless. They played a few of their favorites in arrangements that provided pleasant rhythmic blends of the string sections in "Eleanor Rigby," by Lennon and McCartney, and catchy melodies in Richard Meyer's "Carpe Diem!"

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Eleanore Espinosa, a longtime friend of the Danbury Music Centre. Her son, Bob, a violinist with DPSO, shared some stories about his family, many of whom performed with him. Demonstrating the strong connection between the two orchestras, Lebetkin introduced quite a few former members of DPSO, now onstage with the DCO.

Smith was surrounded by more than 100 musicians, as they all combined for a majestic arrangement of "Russian Choral and Overture," by Tchaikovsky. Smith and DCO created a Nordic atmosphere, ending the concert with a rousing rendition of the forceful themes of "Finlandia," by Sibelius. The concert gave a convincing demonstration of the evolving strength of the community orchestra.

On Sunday, March 13, at 3 p.m. the Danbury Music Centre celebrates its 75th anniversary with a program that promises to pull out all the stops at Ives Concert Hall, mid-town campus of WestConn, Fifth Avenue and White Street.

Works by Handel, Beethoven and Holst will be performed by the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, the Danbury Concert Chorus, members from the DCO and special guest artist, Ase-AmenRa Kariamu, on African drums.

The concert is free with donations accepted at the door.

Visit www.danbury.org/musicctr.

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Danbury Concert Chorus sings Bloch

By Gilbert Mott
Contributing Writer
Friday, March 11, 2011

The Danbury Music Centre is seeking a new music director for its Danbury Concert Chorus so this season will see a string of guest conductors who are candidates for the job. Last Saturday night it was Matthew Phelps' turn on the podium. He is an accomplished organist and choral conductor and minister of music at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, N.Y.

Phelps challenged the chorus with Ernest Bloch's "Sacred Service," a large, late-Romantic piece that marks the composer's renewed interest in his Jewish faith and heritage. In friendly remarks before the performance, Phelps commented on the difficulty of the piece and the snowy winter that played havoc with rehearsal schedules. If some stretches of the singing were less than completely secure, the chorus caught the spirit of Bloch's writing and gave a worthy performance.

The piece has a prominent baritone solo part and Scott Wheatley was excellent, declaiming the language with force and authority and singing with a rich, solid tone. The chorus picked up on his spirit, like a congregation following a cantor.

They caught the changing moods and the rhythmic bounce building up to the "Alleluia" in Part II ("Sanctification"). The long line in Part III ("Silent Devotion") was quiet, but sustained. The words here ("Lift up your heads ¦ Who is the King of glory") must have been familiar to a chorus that sings Handel's "Messiah" every year. Bloch set them to lush harmonies, quite a contrast to Handel's sprightly rhythms.

Uncertainties crept into the choral singing in Part V ("Adoration") but the moving "Amen" of the "Benediction" was a satisfying close. Phelps conducted with a clear beat throughout, effectively communicating with his forces and shaping the performance. Eugene Lavery was the fine organist.

Phelps' opening remarks about Bloch embracing his Jewish roots as he composed the piece were helpful, but one wished for more about the liturgical context of the text.

He mentioned it was the morning service, but where are the texts from, what is their significance? Even printed texts in the program would have helped. (The work was sung largely in English, but you can never get every word.)

The program opened with a lusty rendition of Alice Parker's "Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal," with the chorus digging into the pure, gospel-tinged harmonies. Randall Thompson's familiar "Alleluia" gathered urgency as they moved through its sinuous lines, faltering a bit through the difficult-to-tune parts, but capturing its insistent tread through to a full, rich close.

After the Bloch, Phelps went to the can't-miss category for Hall Johnson's great spiritual "Ain't Got Time to Die," which Wheatley and the chorus sang with spirit and punch.

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DSO Concert for Young People provides mirth and mischief

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Enjoying music together may be one of the nicest family traditions I can remember. Performers and listeners spanning several generations converged at Danbury High School on Sunday afternoon for an enjoyable "Concert for Young People," presented by the Danbury Music Centre in cooperation with Danbury Public Schools and the music department.

Band director Paul Riley led the DHS band, opening the concert with raucous reeds, brash brass, and a high-powered percussion section that was bangin' as they played the "Xerxes" march by John Mackey.

Music director and conductor Ariel Rudiakov and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra played music that could turn a frog into a prince with Bruce Chase's arrangement of "Muppet Medley." Heartwarming strings in "The Rainbow Connection" had just the right schmaltz factor. Football fans could be heard murmuring from the rear of the auditorium and up on center stage as Rudiakov introduced "The Three Bears -- A Fantasy," by Eric Coates of Great Britain, not Chicago. Members of the DHS String Orchestra joined the DSO as their high-, middle-, and low-pitched instruments played the roles of baby, mama and papa bears. Goldilocks was swingin' to dance band rhythms popular in the 1920s.

Twelve-year-old McKenna Mase showed why she won this year's DSO Concerto Contest playing the first movement of Piano Concerto No. 1 by Dimitri Kabalevsky, who dedicated the piece to Soviet youth.

Mase gave an impressive display playing complex credenzas and brilliant romantic fireworks with sure-handed bravura. She was hidden behind an armful of bouquets as she left the stage.

Director Don Coffman's wife, Maureen Kelly, accompanied the Candlewood Children's Chorus, helping the little waifs out of the woods in a scene from Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel." Their delicate voices in "Walking in the Air" from "The Snowman" gave me goose bumps.

I don't think I can hear "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Paul Dukas without having visions of Mickey Mouse from the 1940 Disney film "Fantasia," narrated by Deems Taylor. Rudiakov was a wizard controlling the cascade of sounds building up to a swirling crescendo. The rarely heard contrabassoon and bass clarinet joined the DSO in the musical mischief.

Considering the competition from football playoffs, the concert was quite well attended. It's good to see that many music lovers are still willing to brave the winter weather to enjoy a good concert.

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Music Centre 'Messiah' a performance of drama and power

By Gilbert Mott
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

If it's Christmas, it must be "Messiah" time. Although Handel didn't write his great oratorio for Christmas, and the text of the whole work relates to Easter as much as the Nativity, over the centuries it has come to be a popular December tradition. The Danbury Music Centre presented its annual rendition Friday at First Congregational Church.

While the Music Centre searches for a new director for its Danbury Concert Chorus, it invited Tina Johns Heidrich to be the guest conductor for this year's "Messiah."

Heidrich is well-known to local choral music fans as the founder and music director of the Connecticut Master Chorale. She led a performance of drama and power, adding her interpretive touches to a choir that clearly knows the piece well.

Starting with a deliberate, sharply etched fugue in the overture and a stately opening chorus ("And the glory of the Lord"), Heidrich's tempos took the time to lay out musical details convincingly.

The choir sang in tune, finishing the big choruses with brilliantly ringing chords. Dynamics in choruses like "And He shall purify" and "For unto us" started out soft, leaving room for the dynamics to grow.

"His name shall be called Wonderful" says the chorus in "For Unto Us," and the dynamic pacing made the moment just that.

"Behold the Lamb of God" had a good mysterious touch and "All we like sheep" enthusiastically painted the picture of the text. Vehemence when it was called for, as in "Surely He hath borne our griefs," was there too. Occasional tough passage work as in "His yoke is easy" and a momentary glitch in the "Amen" aside, the choir clearly has an old friend in the piece and a new one in the conductor.

The baritone Dan Kempson showed off a solid, ringing voice and a smooth line in "But who may abide." His relaxed mood gave way to an effective contrast as the text said. "For He is like a refiner's fire." "The people that walked in darkness" had a good sense of urgency and "The trumpet shall sound" was forceful and exciting. The soprano Louise Fauteux sang with supple coloratura and a bright, solid top. Her light voice seemed restrained in "I know that my Redeemer liveth," perhaps a bit too nice.

Mezzo-soprano Wendy Gerbier took an intimate, inviting tone in "O thou that tellest," missing some faster passages but drawing the listener in. Her gentle approach worked well in "He shall feed his flock," less so in "He was despised," which seemed prosaic. The tenor Richard Slade offered thoughtful ornamentation but struggled with pitch problems.

The Baroque Chamber Orchestra played well for Heidrich, with sensitive string playing in the Pastorale Symphony interlude and numbers like "O thou that tellest." Stan Schmidt and William Geddes played trumpet to great effect. The full house responded enthusiastically and another Christmas season was upon us.

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'Nutcracker Ballet' continues to grow and glow

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010

For the past 44 years, the Danbury Music Centre has been presenting bigger and better versions of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Ballet." With new sets, costumes and innovations, it appears to be an ever-expanding extravaganza. Hundreds of talented dancers and musicians succeeded in entertaining thousands at last weekend's performances at Danbury High School.

An enormous amount of credit goes to all the people working behind the scenes. I wonder what it would be like to watch from backstage. Kudos go to Arthur Fredric and his wife Lisa Denton for choreography and just about everything else happening on and offstage. I understand that they know each of the 235 dancers by name. It has become an extended family for those who return year after year, performing in different roles. The costumes and sets are magnificent, with much attention to many little details.

How do they do it? The person to ask would be Nancy Sudik, executive director for Danbury Music Centre. I think an organizational chart for DMC would look something like a bicycle wheel, with all of the spokes connected to her. I'm sure she would be happy to talk to anyone, after she finishes playing her French horn in the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.

Music director and conductor Ariel Rudiakov and DSO were in fine form, complementing the holiday ballet with Tchaikovsky's lush orchestration. Special instruments such as harps, celeste and bass clarinet added festivity to the dreamy dancing.

The essence of the story is a dream sequence involving a family gathering at the holidays, opening lots of presents. Starting in a grown-up world, Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by Chris Smalley, gives a wooden nutcracker doll to Clara, played by Elaina Sutula. Her brother Fritz, played by Matthew Spero, is full of mischief, and they quickly enter a state of controlled pandemonium as toy soldiers battle with mice, with lots of little legs kicking in the air.

The DSO added drama to the strobe-lit scene when a big tree transformed and the toy nutcracker came to life. Snow Queen Elizabeth Ibarra held court over snowflakes of all shapes and sizes; the Snowflake singers added wintry atmosphere in their wordless chorus. A team of tiny reindeer were charged with hauling Clara and her Prince offstage in their sleigh, ending the first act.

Kaitlin Lipner held everyone's attention as a twirling Sugar Plum Fairy, dancing with her leaping Cavalier, Ryan F. Bulson. Hot Chocolate and Chinese dancers had glitz and glamour, and Arabian Queen Lauren Bauer appeared and mysteriously vanished out of a veil. Russians danced up a storm, and I couldn't blame the Marzipan wolf for trying to eat the cute little lambs -- even the "Rockettes" and trees shook with fear.

Mother Ginger may or may not have been Mayor Mark Boughton. Boughton was his usual bustle full of trouble on Saturday and Sunday, but Andrew Robinson was in the role on Friday, when I attended. Ginger Clowns on skateboards -- why not? Dew Drop Fairy Erin Michelle Gibbons and Flower Bud leader Audrey Porter were literally on their toes with the lovely flower dancers.

The overall quality of the production was excellent. "Nutcracker Ballet" can even make a snowstorm seem like a good thing and bring out the inner child in all of us.

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Danbury Community Orchestra performs entire 'Unfinished Symphony'

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

DANBURY -- Music director and conductor Stephen Michael Smith and the Danbury Community Orchestra met a musical milestone in their concert at Western Connecticut State University last Sunday, presented by Danbury Music Centre. Smith has given the orchestra many substantial works to perform, often selecting a movement from a Beethoven symphony or other serious works to challenge the members of the orchestra.

They performed the entire "Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 (The Unfinished)" by Franz Schubert. Smith wanted to feature various rhythms and colors in the compositions selected for the program, and Schubert's Unfinished was a perfect choice. All of the sections in the DCO hung together through many different flowing themes, mounting tension and swelling dynamics. They all caught Schubert's big wave and took it for a ride until it ran out of notes. We may never know if Schubert intended to add more, but he left us with a masterpiece.

As they started the concert with "An American Salute" by Morton Gould, I asked myself if it was something written by John Williams. Gould made variations on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," creating a mix of emotions ranging from gala to somber, and ending triumphantly. Crisp snare and classy brass made for a military march, as Walter Sudik played bass clarinet with gusto.

Felix Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" paired a French horn nearly indistinguishably against a bassoon in the "Nocturne" passage. There was no sleeping during the anxious searching portrayed in the intermezzo. Tympani and strings came alive in "Dance of the Clowns."

Latin sounds took everyone for short vacations south of the border, starting in sunny Mexico with the majestic "Andalucia Suite" by Ernesto Lecuona. Trumpets, trombones and tambourine sounded like a mariachi band, as the clarinet held its own against the sweeping string section. The orchestra built up to a controlled climax in the emotional "Malaguena," at the finale. "Danzon No. 2" demonstrated why composer Arturo Marquez is considered the Cuban Gershwin. There was some jazzy piano action from Evan Lunt, in an interesting fusion of musical elements. Light woodwinds provided pleasant accents between forceful strings and intricate percussive work. By the end they were all rocking to the tricky rhythms on the claves (wooden sticks), peppered with some rim shots on the drum head.

Smith has a solid connection with the members of the orchestra. He gave acknowledgments to the different concertmasters and wished two departing members good luck as they move on. They all deserve to take pride in what they have accomplished in their musical growth together.

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Howlett leads Danbury Concert Chorus

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010

As the first guest conductor in Danbury Music Centre's search for a new music director this season, Christine R. Howlett was sparkling as she presented some choral gems at First Congregational Church on Sunday. In a program featuring inspirational and romantic works, Howlett seemed at home with the Danbury Concert Chorus and longtime accompanist Maxim Vladimiroff.

Howlett has impressive qualifications including a D.M.A. in choral conducting from Indiana University, and opened with an uplifting contemporary piece by fellow Hoosier Daniel Gawthrop. More than 80 voices strong, DCC was overflowing out of the sanctuary with some sopranos and altos singing in the upper seats, creating well-defined separation of the four vocal sections.

They turned the clock back to J.S. Bach with the chorus singing "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire" in smooth legato as Vladimiroff played organ in contrasting staccato. Exquisite harmonies prove why Mozart's "Ave verum" remains so popular. Tenors and basses added well to the crescendo in "Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silent," by Gustav Holst.

Alternating piano chords were like lightly falling snow as altos sang beautifully in "Serenity," by Charles Ives.

The chorus got an extended break as tenor Nathan M. Carlisle and Vladimiroff gave a recital of selections from "Dichterliebe," by Robert Schumann. Carlisle was bursting with emotion in "Wenn ich in deine Augen See," with his powerful voice gushing with all the feeling of unrequited love. The last tune, "Ich grolle nicht," hinted that having a broken heart can be a shared experience.

Howlett arranged a smaller Chamber Choir from DCC to join Carlisle and the full chorus for some gypsy songs covering a gamut of emotions from "Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103," by Johannes Brahms. The translations of the lyrics suggested that Brahms was having even more fun than in his earlier "Liebeslieder Waltzes." The DCC was in full force intensely confessing and longing for true love or some approximation of it. Vladimiroff was clearly up to the challenging piano accompaniment.

They closed by celebrating the pleasures of song in "I have had singing," by Ron Jeffers. With attentive gestures, Howlett led DCC in a program that seemed to win over both audience and performers. Hopefully, we'll be hearing more from her.

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Rudiakov and Danbury Symphony coming on strong

By Jan Stribula
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

DANBURY--Starting their fifth season together, things are shaping up nicely for the not exactly new music director Ariel Rudiakov and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra. Fruit from all of their effort was in full blossom in an impressive performance last Saturday at Ives Concert Hall at Western Connecticut State University. My regrets go to anyone who wasn't there.

Enormously popular with one and all, Rudiakov presented a program with pleasant pieces from the listener's point of view, but challenging works for the performers. Some compositions have intricacies in their flowing familiarity that may present difficulties harnessing everyone's individual styles into one voice. Rudiakov has been largely successful in bringing the entire orchestra together in unifying the feeling of the music.

They opened with "The Three Elizabeths" by Eric Coates (1886 -- 1957) that linked together past, present, and future queens of England. Crisp snare and brass gave British flavors to the rollicking romp in Halcyon Day, honoring Elizabeth Tudor. Oboist Donna Locke was a standout in the stirring second movement, a tribute to the late Queen Mother. Trumpet fanfares led a festive procession with regal splendor ushering in 18-year-old Princess Elizabeth.

With the exception of two French horns, all the brass left the stage, and Rudiakov's wife, Joana Genova, entered in an elegant black gown as soloist in "Romance for Violin and Orchestra," a salvaged section of an early string quartet by Antonin Dvorak (1841 -- 1904). Strings and clarinet created a Bohemian atmosphere, as Genova steadily developed the exquisite theme. Although speed work was not required in the lyrical romance, Genova's sure-handedness made a strong impression on the orchestra. I kept hearing her violin in the sections played by DSO without her. She received roses, hugs, and a standing ovation for her expressive performance.

Following intermission, Rudiakov and DSO gave a forceful demonstration of how well they can sound in "Symphony No. 1 in C minor" by Johannes Brahms (1833 -- 1897). Written when Brahms was 43, after many years in its development, his first symphony was one for which it was well worth waiting. Steady pulsations of tympani helped the strings create a strong sense of purpose. All members of the DSO were engaged in variations in the driving contrapuntal rhythms. Horns and clarinets were swelling in anticipation of the beautiful themes surging with power in the third movement. In the magnificent fourth movement, dramatic tension was steadily building with trombones joining for the rich sonorous finale of the complex masterpiece.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Danbury Music Centre. We have come to expect great things from this group of volunteers who give so much to the community, providing creative outlets for everyone, onstage or behind the scenes. Next month will feature traditional holiday favorites, "The Nutcracker Ballet" and Handel's "Messiah." For more information, call 203-748-1716, or check www.danbury.org/MusicCtr.

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Gale celebrates violin heroes

By Gilbert Mott
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In putting programs together, violinist David Gale looks back to the time of the virtuoso/composer, figures like Paganini, Chopin and Liszt, the musical heroes of their day, who made audiences swoon performing the pieces they had written.

His recital Saturday at the Danbury Music Centre featured works by three violinists and composers who were world famous in their time and who Gale wants to make sure we don't forget. His impassioned playing made his case well.

Gale grew up in this area and did some of his earliest music making at the Danbury Music Centre. This benefit performance acknowledged the center's important role in his development and in the community's musical life.

Only 23, the violinist has a strongly developed musical personality and a relaxed stage manner. His remarks before each piece offered historical context and stressed what each composer meant to him.

The traditional recital format tends to separate performers on the stage from listeners in the hall. The intimate Anderson Recital Hall encourages players to engage the audience, and Gale did it well.

He started in the 18th century with Giuseppe Tartini's Sonata in G minor, known as the "Devil's Trill." Tartini was a great violinist, teacher and theorist in his day.

The story goes that the devil came to him in a dream and played an amazingly virtuosic piece on his fiddle. When Tartini awoke he tried to write it down as best he could.

The great 20th century violinist Fritz Kreisler arranged it and wrote a cadenza, and it was that version Gale played. With a rich tone and expressive vibrato, he took a deliberate approach to the opening movement, with delicate ends of phrases.

The second movement had a marked rhythmic bite, and the finale gathered steam and built tension into a rhapsodic, improvisatory-sounding reading of the cadenza. Pianist Evan Solomon provided solid underpinning.

The 19th century Spaniard Pablo de Sarasate came next. Gale talked about the importance of Spain, especially Spanish gypsy music, in his works, and drew an amusing parallel between Sarasate's music and his dalliances with the opposite sex.

He played the "Habanera" Op. 26 No. 8, "Romanza Andaluza" Op. 22 No. 1, and "Jota Navarra" Op. 22 No. 4 with rhythmic verve, sure intonation and great panache.

The start-stop bounciness, leaps between high and low registers, and singing, sighing tone of the "Jota" were especially memorable. Gale said he finds the essence of the violin in pieces like these, and one could hear that in his playing.

The 19th century Polish composer Henryk Wieniawski's Second Concerto ended the program. Here Solomon got his chance to shine, standing in for the full orchestra in the piano transcription, and he delivered a big, colorful sound to match Gale's playing.

The piece was full of both fire and song, and the dashing tempo of the finale never lost clarity or expressiveness.

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