The Danbury Music Centre offered two classics of the choral literature on Saturday in a concert by the Danbury Concert Chorus and Danbury Symphony Orchestra.
Francis Poulenc's Gloria and Gabriel Faure's Requiem got solid, sensitive performances at St. James Episcopal Church under the Chorus' Music Director, Christine R. Howlett.
Howlett's well-trained chorus responded to the insistent, dramatic opening tread of the Gloria. They mastered the tricky rhythms of the "Laudamus te" section and the Orchestra's brass played their spiky lines with flair.
Howlett made the most of sudden dynamic contrasts and brought the section to a big close, a shout of praise.
Sonja Tengbald was the sensitive, sweet-sounding soprano soloist. In the first "Domine Deus" she tended to get covered by the choral and orchestra forces, but her voice carried better in the second, and she made a rather angular vocal line sound finely expressive.
In the closing "Qui sedes" the chorus spun out the melody, punctuated by the orchestra, and echoed the sensuous solo line. A hushed amen rounded off an effective performance.
The chorus sang with an impressively sustained line in the opening of the familiar Requiem, with sensitivity to the contrapuntal give and take and to the nuances of the language.
In the "Sanctus" they tossed the themes back and forth with assurance, to sweet-toned violin accompaniment by concertmaster Cornelia Sexton. Howlett built the section to a great climactic "Osanna," with strong contributions from the orchestra's brass.
Tengbald returned as soloist in the "Pie Jesu." The piece is often presented with a straight, boy-soprano tone, but her fuller voiced singing was touchingly expressive. The baritone soloist, Sumner Thompson, sang with a brilliant ringing tone, feeling for line, and dramatic presence in the "Hostias" and "Libera me."
The orchestra played well throughout, with good ensemble playing in the strings and powerful brass touches where called for. The "Dies irae" was impassioned, but this Requiem is less about the coming day of wrath than about the promise of paradise, and the "In Paradisum" was angelic, a gentle, consoling finale meant to give us all hope.
Gilbert H. Mott is a freelance writer in Connecticut; email@example.com
Nearing the end of her first season as music director of the Danbury Concert Chorus, Christine Howlett has been well received as the group's new conductor. Executive director Nancy Sudik said that finding Howlett has been a blessing for Danbury Music Centre. It was a special treat to hear Howlett last Saturday accompanied by two of her friends, pianist Holly Chatham and violinist Patrick Wood Uribe, singing songs that looked at love from many perspectives.
Howlett hails from Halifax but left the Canadian provinces to study in Toronto and at Indiana University where she met Chatham. With Wood, the trio performed several selections from their CD "Love Raise Your Voice," a collection of songs and poems considering many aspects of romance, not always a bed of roses.
Sounding clear as a bell, Howlett's soprano voice could readily reach into the upper registers, or return back to earth, easing into a delicate vibrato with finesse. The opening selections from "Ariettes oubliees" by Claude Debussy featured an intoxicating accompaniment, with Chatham's piano softly cascading rain in "Il pleure dans mon Coeur."
They have made a strong connection with British composer Tarik O'Regan (b. 1978), who has helped provide an exciting new repertoire for the trio. The haunting poem "Sainte" had a lean, almost minimalist piano part, allowing Howlett to freely express the sentiments of the theme.
"Irreversible Heart, Op. 896" by Carson Cooman (b. 1982) provided new music for age-old stories. Cricket-like violin work and spare piano added an empty sense of turning inward, looking for lost love. In the title selection, they bravely forged ahead, on the mend.
Following intermission, Wood and Chatham performed several lyrical duets by Gabriel Faure, including the bonus feature "Apres un reve." Emotionally charged "Regrets, Op. 40," by Henri Vieuxtemps, built up to a heartbreaking climax in the throes of passion.
With the words of John Donne in "Death Be Not Proud," Howlett provided a stern rebuke, modernized to the music of Leonard Enns. The mood finally turned to the brighter side of love with "My Garden," composed by Elizabeth Haskins (b. 1951), based on three poems by Christina Rossetti. Expressive and sentimental themes in "There Is A Budding Morrow In Midnight" reminded me of John Rutter's music. The Appalachian folk dance "Spring Quiet" embodied the vitality returning after the winter thaw. They celebrated true love in a rousing finale "Love Raise Your Voice" by O'Regan.
Howlett has quickly become a bright spot for Danbury Music Centre, both conducting and singing. She will lead the Danbury Concert Chorus in Poulenc's "Gloria" and Faure's "Requiem" on May 12 at 8 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church in Danbury.
Will Duchon is well known as the popular radio voice for WMNR on Friday nights (88.1 FM, 6-11 p.m.). What some listeners may not realize is that Duchon is also a virtuoso pianist. Without a word Sunday, Duchon let his fingers do all the talking in a bravura concert with Danbury Music Centre's music director, Ariel Rudiakov, leading Danbury Symphony Orchestra. The conversation, held at Ives Hall in Danbury, was emotional and evocative.
In his broadcasting, Duchon is well versed in mining material from all over the musical spectrum. For this return engagement with DSO, Duchon chose Brahms' titanic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. Playing with dynamic mastery, Duchon developed complicated chord progressions and delivered with dynamite. He could also touch the heart with delicacy and finesse.
Muscular cross-handed sections in the first movement were performed with laser sharp precision. Duchon and DSO were well integrated, echoing each other in the majestic themes. Going into the adagio second movement, Duchon and his Steinway concert grand piano were suitably warmed up for one of Brahms' most beautiful pieces. Some musical historians say it is a eulogy to his late mentor Robert Schumann, while others claim it to be a love song to Clara Schumann. We may never know, but what remains is definitely a gift for all to enjoy. Surging into the final movement, Duchon articulated romantic themes with flourish, and a nod to the horn section.
The concert opened with Rudiakov and Scott Woolweaver as soloists playing J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat Major for two violas. DSO had an unusual sound in the score for string orchestra with no violins, the heavy lifting being done by the two violas and cellos. Rudiakov and Woolweaver engaged in a lively dialogue, as low strings developed related themes. The final movement had the comfortable feeling of slipping on an old pair of gloves that fit just right.
DSO was back to full strength for Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21, with the added instruments immediately creating a much fuller sound. Woodwind solos interspersed between forceful strings, brass accents, and powerful percussive work had that special quality Beethoven had already imparted into his early compositions.
Following the concert, many of the staff from WMNR were on hand to provide a face to go with their on-the-air voices, including operations director Jane Stadler. The event was co-sponsored by WMNR, along with Fred and Joan Weisman.
Jan Stribula is a freelance writer in Ridgefield and can be reached at Janff@aol.com.
In their annual joint performance, Danbury Community Orchestra and Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra combined over 100 talented musicians on and offstage at Ives Hall on the midtown campus of Western Connecticut State University last Sunday.
The results were remarkable.
Danbury Music Centre's music director, Stephen Michael Smith, continues to raise the bar for the musicianship in the Danbury Community Orchestra, certainly enhancing the high level of artistry in the area.
Many DCO performers got their feet wet with the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra. Their music director, Glen Lebetkin, noted that the two orchestras share a lot of DNA.
The orchestra got the concert off to a good start with some south of the border ballroom music, "Conga del Fuego Nuevo," by Arturo Marquez.
With and without a mute, trumpeter Peter Ballantoni added some smooth solos to the catchy rhythms anchored by the low strings.
It wasn't easy for the strings to jump into the fiery scherzo movement from Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony. The chorus of horns added some drama, and the tympani was right on.
Lebetkin led the string orchestra in an energized string arrangement of the allegro from Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Trumpets. They followed with the playful "Jazz Pizzicato" and "Fiddle-Faddle" by Connecticut composer Leroy Anderson.
Medleys of 1960s hits by The Four Seasons brought some nostalgia, as well as interesting arrangements of falsetto vocals, covered quite well by the violins in "Big Girls Don't Cry."
Turning to The Beatles they were at their best, rocking out in "Can't Buy Me Love." It sounded like the good guys won in the cinematic "Warrior Legacy" by Korean composer Soon Hee Newbold.
The two orchestras combined for patriotic tunes in "Finale" by Vaclav Nelhybel. Flutes, piccolo and snare drum in "Johnny Comes Marching Home" somehow reminded me of the film Dr. Strangelove.
Outdoing themselves has become customary for Smith and the orchestra. They ended with another gem of a movement, the finale from Symphony No. 2 by Sibelius.
The piece exploded with brilliant tone colors, powered by brass and shaded gracefully by the winds. Surging into the finale, strings evoked a beautiful sunrise emerging out of the clouds rather than the usual Nordic desolation associated with Sibelius.
Jack Kerouac often listened to this piece while working in a fire watch tower in the North Cascades of Washington state.
The common bond of this community of artists is their love of music. In providing several organizations where this is readily realized, Danbury Music Centre has served us well.
Jan Stribula is a freelance writer in Ridgefield and can be reached at Janff@aol.com.
Serving as music director and chief ringleader, Ari Rudiakov had many capable assistants in the Danbury Music Centre's annual "Concert for Young People" last Sunday at Ives Hall on the campus of Western Connecticut State University. With a show of hands, Rudiakov established that the event was well attended by the young and young at heart.
There's probably no better way to get started than a Rossini overture, and the music from the tragic opera "Semiramis" proved to be both melodramatic and aerobic. Timpani and strings immediately caught your attention, with the chorus of horns stating the main theme.
They were battered by the rest of the orchestra in thunderous response -- like opening a door during a hurricane. The alternating themes went back and forth, building up to several crescendos as steadfast woodwinds and brass joined along the way. Everyone from piccolo to trombone was fully energized by the finale.
In her glittering pink gown, violinist Anastasia Dolak showed why she was this year's winner of the DSO student concerto competition with a confident performance of the first movement of "Symphonie Espagnole" by Edouard Lalo. Performing with panache, Dolak smoothly handled the quick shifts from high to low notes with her flair for flamboyant fingering. Dolak seemed to be enjoying herself, and certainly has charm, charisma, and talent galore that will help after she graduates from New Fairfield High School later this year.
Dozens of children charged the stage to pick a rattle or train whistle, adding to the fun of "The Toy Symphony" by Franz Joseph Haydn. The oboe became a cuckoo bird and the wide array of percussive gadgets made it clear that anything goes with this playful piece. Instructing his helpers to get wild with the last movement, Rudiakov was having a blast. The future of the music scene seems to be in capable hands.
Returning to their seats, most of the children refrained from playing their whistles and rattles as Arthur Fredric narrated "The Thrill of the Orchestra" composed by Russell Peck. Fredric described the emotions and feelings of what was happening in the orchestra, introducing the percussion, brass, woodwind, and string sections. The members of the orchestra worked out some unusual choreography to demonstrate their instruments, and everyone was swinging at the end.
Starting serious, with a little education tossed in, the concert turned out to be a lot of fun for children of all ages.
Concert Chorus sings annual 'Messiah' under a new leader
Every Christmas season brings performances of Handel's "Messiah," and the Danbury Music Centre's Danbury Concert Chorus has been performing the oratorio every December for over 50 years. This year's "Messiah" at the First Congregational Church, however, was the chorus's first under its new Music Director, Christine R. Howlett. She showed herself a worthy inheritor of the tradition, getting strong singing from her large forces and shaping the dramatic story effectively.
From the opening chorus, "And the glory of the Lord," the singing was well balanced (not easy when the chorus, like so many, had many more women than men) and the right lines were brought out. The fast passage work in "And He shall purify" was supple and clean. "For unto us" had a good full sound and Howlett built it to its climax convincingly. In "Glory to God," the singing was dramatic ("And peace on earth") and hearty ("Good will toward men"). "Behold the Lamb of God" had the right air of mystery and gentleness.
The chorus brought out the tension of the long suspensions in "Surely He hath borne our griefs" and "All we like sheep" was well articulated and held together. The chorus's use of the balconies for sopranos and altos always makes a virtue of necessity, here most tellingly in the calls and responses of "Lift up your heads". The "Hallelujah" had its usual brilliant effect and the final "Amen" was built up inexorably to a rousing close. These singers encounter this piece every year but continue to find the wonder and power in it.
Mezzo-soprano Jacquelyn Matava was the most pleasing of a quartet of soloists. "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion" was relaxed and full of character, telling the story vividly. Her repeat of the main section was ornamented well. Her sound in "He shall feed His flock" was warm, with a soothing legato line. "He was despised" was both noble and urgent, summoning outrage at the depiction of torment ("He gave His back to the smiters.")
Soprano Courtenay Budd brought a bright tone and ringing top voice to her recitatives and arias. Coloratura passages in "Rejoice greatly" were clear and accurate, if a bit tight when at their fastest.
"I know that my Redeemer liveth" was free and sensitively ornamented. Bass Curtis Streetman sang with power and dramatic force. His ornamentation was imaginative and interesting, though it seemed to get in his way in the fastest passages of "But who may abide". Tenor James Ruff sang with a sweet, light tone that sounded underpowered in the dramatic passages of "Thou shalt dash them."
Howlett got effective accompaniment from the Baroque Chamber Orchestra, anchored by the assured harpsichord playing of Maxim Vladimiroff.
Danbury Music Centre dazzles with 'Nutcracker Ballet'
DANBURY-- Danbury Music Centre presented a top flight production of "Nutcracker Ballet" last weekend, bringing a holiday glow to thousands. With winter rapidly approaching, there was a blissful blizzard being staged indoors that warmed everyone's spirits.
Year after year, artistic director Arthur Fredric and his wife, co-director/choreographer Lisa Denton, outdo themselves with exquisite sets and gorgeous costumes for hundreds of dazzling dancers. Swirling around on cue, they made everything look like fun, especially the battle scenes between toy soldiers and mice. Jumping for joy, it looked like the mice won this year.
Also leaping into action, music director and conductor Ariel Rudiakov led the Danbury Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky's score that can be a delight to listen to, but quite tricky to perform. DSO was augmented with a few special instruments, including harp for the "Waltz of the Flowers" and celeste for the Sugar Plum Fairy's dance. The ever-improving strings had solid support from the brass, wind and percussion sections.
Not known for exaggeration, Mayor Mark Boughton said the DSO is the best symphony he has ever heard. Boughton rolled in, putting a good spin on his part as Mother Courage.
The real stars of the show were ALL the talented children who brought everything to life with their elaborate dance routines. The kids stole the show with ambitious choreography that mixed a wide range of ability and agility. Many familiar faces have been involved in the "Nutcracker" over the years, getting progressively challenging roles. Last year's snowflake dancers may become next year's shining stars. This year Kaitlin Lipner was the Snow Queen who stayed on tip-toe through thick smoke and snow.
The lead roles were handled like pros, as the "Nutcracker" veterans gain maturity. Sugar Plum Fairy Elaina Sutula and her Cavalier Skyler Maxey-Wert were breathtaking in their pas de deux. Victoria Madden, as Clara, combined childlike innocence with adult confidence dancing with her Prince, Jeremy Doran. Stephanie Madeaux was a colorful and graceful Dew Drop Fairy.
Some of the dancers were incredible. Arabian Queen Erin Michelle Gibbons and her court were the epitome of grace and fluidity. Bright piccolo and colorful dresses added spice to the Chinese Tea. The Russian Trepak kicked up their heels and did a little break dancing to boot. Living landscape added to Marzipan lamb and wolf's cute, almost cuddly shenanigans.
Was it all a dream? Not for the winner of the door prize who got to take home a 6-foot nutcracker. I think everyone went away with some real joy in their hearts.
Danbury Concert Chorus gets a new leader
After a season of auditions, the Danbury Music Centre tapped Christine R. Howlett to be music director of its Danbury Concert Chorus. She made her debut as director on Sunday in a concert at the First Congregational Church, and judging from this first program, the DMC chose well.
Howlett is a young Canadian with impressive credentials as a singer and choral conductor. She led her well-drilled chorus with an expressive beat and clear cues. Her program was varied and well assembled, giving the chorus a good workout and introducing her to Danbury with flair.
Handel's "Zadok the Priest" was an excellent curtain raiser. Originally written for a coronation, its celebratory mood fit the occasion well. The chorus produced a big Handelian sound and added precise diction. Charles Villiers Stanford's "Beati quorum via" was a good contrast, with its long, sustained lines that the chorus managed well. Howlett built the dynamic contrasts expertly all the way to the gentle close.
Mendelssohn's "How Lovely are the Messengers" was well balanced and sensitively phrased. Next, two pieces from Randall Thompson's "Frostiana" (settings of Robert Frost poems) bracketed Samuel Barber's "To be Sung on the Water." The first Thompson, "The Road Not Taken," was hushed and intense, though the overall impression was of a rather prosaic setting. "Choose Something Like a Star" was more varied, with its lush harmonies and declamatory outbursts, in a well paced performance. The chorus's usual Congregational Church configuration, with sopranos and altos in opposite balconies, made the most of the antiphonal features in the Barber, and the group's incisive articulation added to the effect.
A robust reading of Vaughan Williams's "O Clap Your Hands" led to Daniel Pinkham's "Christmas Cantata." Pinkham was a 20th-cenutry Boston-based composer, teacher, and choral conductor who wrote a great deal of choral music. The cantata opens with a chantlike theme, then moves with a jazzy, rhythmic bounce. The 10-piece Danbury Symphony Brass accompanied colorfully and the chorus sounded spirited and confident.
The second movement, on the text "O Magnum Mysterium," caught the feeling of mystery in the chromatically inflected line, with brass echoes adding to the effect. The finale, with its English carol sound and joyous rhythms, sounded fun to sing, as it should, and stayed in the mind's ear well after the concert's close.
Howlett made remarks between pieces that added perspective and showed her to be a performer eager to introduce listeners to the great works that she brings them. The chorus seemed happy to be singing them with her.
DSO delivers Mahler beautifully
A proud page was added to the annals of the Danbury Music Centre last Sunday as the Danbury Symphony Orchestra performed one of Mahler's magnificent symphonies for the first time in its 75 year history.
As I walked into Ives Hall at Western Connecticut State University, I asked music director Ariel Rudiakov if this was really true. He admitted he was surprised, but had confirmed everything with executive director Nancy Sudik, probably the best available authority.
In his opening comments onstage, Rudiakov dedicated the concert to the recovery of ailing concertmaster Natalya Shamis. Both Rudiakov and Shamis have been with the DSO for the past five years. With violinist Burton Peretti filling in for Shamis, they opened with "Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80" by Johannes Brahms.
It was good to see a few new faces seated or standing in the DSO, some recent "graduates" from the Danbury Community Orchestra. Rudiakov described the overture as Brahms poking fun at academia with his embellishments on a drinking song. The DSO maintained nice dynamic modulation; the ever-improving strings sounded full, as the brass cranked it up a couple of notches at the coda.
Rudiakov's wife, Joana Genova, was compelling as violin soloist for Fritz Kreisler's "Praeludium and Allegro," immediately grabbing our attention in a red gown and long strokes in the introduction. She was in complete command as the theme was revisited with virtuosic intricateness.
Following intermission, Genova served as concertmaster for the DSO in its ambitious performance of "Symphony No. 1 in D Major (The Titan)" by Gustav Mahler. Overcoming the combined challenges of expanded orchestration, complicated rhythms, and unusual thematic development, the DSO sounded beautiful. It began like a dawn awakening, with feather-lightness in the winds, followed by rich steady cellos and sunshine exuding from the emerging strings.
The DSO succeeded in recreating Mahler's wondrous mosaic of the many moods that might be found in life's experiences. Shadows of darkness came in the third movement with its bittersweet klezmer funeral march. Low brass was sternly knocking on heaven's door in the fourth movement, mixed with some unearthly sounds and soul searching in the cathartic interlude. Trumpets heralded DSO at full tilt, with the horns rising at the titanic finale. Rudiakov and all the musicians in DSO know in their hearts what they accomplished together.
As I walked out of Ives Hall my friend Ed Rosenberg told me about when his mother had seen the New York Philharmonic perform this symphony at Carnegie Hall with Mahler conducting. We can only imagine what that must have been like. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 75 years for some more Mahler in Danbury.