Broadway at its Best

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
April 21, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

I had forgotten just how good the American musical theater once was. The opening bars of “Oklahoma,” played by the Portland Symphony Orchestra in a Pops concert Sunday afternoon at Merrill Auditorium, were a forcible reminder.

My father, who was a critic, took me to opening night. We sat in the front row of the balcony and I set the stage with a loud impromptu version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” in my best boy soprano. Later, my sister and I learned every single word of every single song —“Oklahoma” is a cornucopia—and sang them at an audition. The producers found them too “adult” for a children’s program in Philadelphia, but we refused to learn anything else. (We did Cab Calloway too.)

But I digress. The orchestra, under music director finalist Daniel Meyer, was on its best behavior, the arrangements were truly symphonic, and soprano Lisa Vroman was the very model of what a Broadway leading lady should be. She has a marvelous voice, a warm and friendly stage presence, dances gracefully and is also a pretty good stand-up comedienne. Her tales of mishaps on stage and her demure and lethal version of “To Keep My Love Alive” from Rogers’ “Connecticut Yankee” had even the orchestra members laughing into their cellos.

The selections favored Rogers and Hart and Rogers and Hammerstein, but Sondheim, Willson and Loewe were also well represented. The composer of the plaintive “Take of My Solitude,” Tom Megan, was in the audience and received a round of applause.

There was also a charming, humorous version of Irving Berlin’s “I love a Piano,” in which Vroman was perfectly accompanied by PSO keyboardist Janet Reeves.

Vroman spoke of her childhood desire to be Julie Andrews, but her opening “The Sound of Music,” and finale “My Favorite Things” (with an impromptu verse for Portland) placed her firmly in the same league. She even had the near-capacity audience singing “Edelweiss” at the end.

Meyer elicited fresh and enthusiastic performances of favorites so popular that orchestras sometimes merely go through the motions. Fine and cleverly orchestrated arrangements didn’t hurt the cause either. He also has a good singing voice, as evidenced by a duet from “Phantom of the Opera” illustrating one of Vroman’s stories.

It will be interesting to see how he conducts other classics, “Swan Lake” and a Glazunov Violin Concerto, on May 13.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

The Ariel Quartet:Two Out of Three Isn’t Bad

The Ariel Quartet
Hannaford Hall, USM Portland
April 18, 2018
By Christopher Hyde

When I first started writing music reviews for the Portland Press Herald years ago, I felt like Diogenes and his lantern, looking for an honest man. My search was for the quintessential, live, Brahms performance. Like Diogenes, I never found what I was looking for, although several came close.

My hopes rose when I heard the Ariel Quartet, brought to Hannaford Hall on Wednesday night by Portland Ovations. The monumental Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, Opus 34, was the final work on a program that began with one of the most delightful readings of the Mozart Piano Quartet in E-flat Major (K.493) that I have heard anywhere.

The performance was as highly polished and full of intricate relief as a piece of Georgian silver. What can easily become a concerto was held in check by Navah Perlman, whose playing made the piano into one more voice in the quartet, although a lively one.

Sometimes one could not tell where the piano ended and the cello—or the viola, or the violin— began. A true conversation among equals, although inevitably, in the finale, the piano became more equal than others.

The reading was perfectly paced, from beginning to end, and somehow or other, the string players were able to achieve a degree of crisp articulation that matched that of the piano.

It seemed impossible to better that accomplishment, but the Ariel did just that in the Bartok Quartet No.1, as great a masterpiece in its own right as the Mozart. You could cut the concentration with a knife, and the dedication was of the kind that Bartok deserves but seldom gets in even the most prestigious recordings. (I bought the Ariel recording at intermission, something I very seldom do.)

From the opening exchange between the first and second violins, it was apparent that something special was happening, with the microtones producing a complex cloud of overtones. What followed was a taste of Bartok’s nocturnal world (frog fugue, mist over the lake, sighing reeds) and some of his best references to folk dances that never were. He brings forth from four instruments sonorities never heard before, without violating their musical nature.

This is the kind of music one can listen to a hundred times and always hear something new…and enchanting.

What about the Brahms? God knows, and she isn’t telling. Let’s just say that after what had gone before, it was a disappointment. Someone was ill, the quartet had used all its energy in the tirst two works, or maybe they just don’t like Brahms. (There are people like that, hard as it is to imagine.)

As a pianist, I have a theory. After intermission, Perlman played a very tentative Schumann Arabesque (Op. 18). Sometimes, when one piece goes wrong, so does everything else, and it’s advisable to go back to scales for the rest of the evening. It could happen to professionals too, I suppose, but they don’t have the luxury of quitting.

The other work on the Ariel Bartok recording is the Brahms String Quartet No. 2, so we’ll see.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

A Welcome Addition to the Maine Music Scene

Amethyst Chamber Ensemble
Unitarian Universalist Church, Brunswick
Apr. 15, 2018
By Christopher Hyde

A new star has risen on the Maine (and Massachusetts) musical horizon. On Sunday, the Amethyst Chamber Ensemble, in its first Maine performance, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick, transformed what could have been a lugubrious afternoon—sort of a “Songs and Dances of Death”—into a lively celebration of life.

The concert began with a set of three songs, “Let Evening Come,” by American composer William Bolcom (b. 1938) The songs are masterful settings of poems by Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson and Jane Kenyon, dealing with human reactions to death.

Bolcom is a master at portraying psychological states through music, and the last song, to a poem by Kenyon, turns a funeral march into a triumphant procession. The set was effectively performed by Mary Sullivan, soprano, Scott Nicholas, piano, and Jon Poupore, viola. The latter instrument takes the place of a singer, who died before Bolcom could complete a commission written for two sopranos.

I loved Emily Dickinson’s image of birds in winter accepting the penance of the farmer.

The next selection on the program, the great Brahms Viola Sonata in F Minor, Op. 120, No. 1, was more cheerful, with echoes of his “Liebeslieder Waltzes” coming after more introspective sections, including some surprisingly songful double stops on the viola.

For something entirely different, the trio, with the addition of mezzo-soprano Joëlle Morris, performed 13 of “Fifteen Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano,” by Irving Schlein (1905-1986). Schlein, a familiar figure on Broadway, composed a large number of classical works, which have remained virtually undiscovered.

The songs are short, well-written, and often comical– musical one-liners, such as No. 5, which, while praising bird song, ends in a discordant minor second. The next, extoling harmony, takes the tonic to ridiculous extremes. No. 13, however, harks back to the theme of the concert, recalling the despair of unrequited love.

German weltschmerz was on full display in two wonderful, darkly Romantic songs for Voice and Viola (Op. 91) by Brahms: “Stilled Longing” and “You Who Hover “(“Gestillte Sehnsucht” and “Geistliches Wiegenlied”). They were movingly sung by Morris with just the right degree of restrained emotion, and tones complementing those of the viola.

Three tangos by Astor Piazzolla provided just the right combination of darkness and light, all of them, however a little more melodic than most of that composer’s concert tangos. The first, a Milonga, was sung by Morris, the second “El Titere,” about a Mack the Knife-like character, by Sullivan,and the third, “Song of the Zamba Girl,” by both, as alternating solos and a duet.

Sullivan and Morris form a near-perfect duet, as significant differences in pitch and timbre make the combination of voices most effective. Their coordination was most striking in a programmed encore, a vocalization of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 by his friend Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) entitled “Les Bohemiennes.”

I usually cannot understand sung words in English, so Viardot’s French was beyond me. I’ll take it on faith that it was clever, funny and perhaps a bit risqué, judging by the fun that the singers, and the audience, had with it.

The next concert in Maine is scheduled for November. Too far off.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.
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A Striking Program of American Organ Music

Harold Stover, Organist
The Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Portland
April 8, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Merrill Auditorium’s Kotzschmar Organ gets all the press, but there are other wonders of the organ world scattered throughout Maine. One of these is the 1928 Skinner Organ at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke,  displayed in Sunday’s program of American music by composer and organist Harold Stover.

The Skinner, which Stover calls “the gold standard of organs,” was refurbished in 2000, and has some of the most brilliant voices I have heard anywhere. The trumpet or bugle calls in Virgil Thompson’s Variations on “There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus,” (1926) were enough to knock your socks off.

Thompson is best known as a music critic, but this work, written in Paris, is a convincing reminder that more things were going on in music than atonalism during the early years of the 20th Century.

Two pieces by Boston composer Arthur Foote (1853-1937) : “Night, a Fantasy” (1919) and “Oriental Sketch,” (1923) showed off the organ’s more delicate aspects in two muted but highly atmospheric pieces, the second of which reminded one a bit of Ketelbey’s famous “In a Monastery Garden.”

I was most impressed by Stover’s early composition, “The Starry Night, after Vincent Van Gogh,” (1971), which is that rare animal, a musical composition inspired by an art work that actually conjures up the appropriate image, including instrumental colors. There are trilling swills around the brilliant yellow stars, cascades of chromatic scales for the dark cypress trees,and solid pedal point anchoring the sleeping village. Besides being a masterpiece in itself, the work, which began the program, showed off the organ’s rapid response admirably.

That response was called upon again in an authentic rendition of “Heliotrope Bouquet, a Slow Drag Two-Step” (1907), a sort of exquisite corpse co-written by Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a rag performed on an organ before.

Some of the other trumpet stops were exercised in “Trumpet Tunes” (1976), by Calvin Hampton, a composition written as an Easter processional that makes key-changes and dissonance into a pleasant and exciting experience. Stover recalled that Hampton’s recitals at Manhattan’s Calvary Episcopal Church were attended by overflow crowds—at midnight.

The program concluded with two more of Stover’s own compositions, “Blue Prelude,” (2015) an homage to the 30’s of Gershwin and Ellington, and “Feria” (2017), which conjures up images of a Spanish street fair.

Proceeds of the recital will go to support St. Luke’s  music program.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

A “Frolicsome Finale” for the DaPonte String Quartet

DaPonte String Quartet
Unitarian Universalist Church, Brunswick
March 25, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

“If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” I thought of Blake’s aphorism while listening to Alban Berg’s early String Quartet, Opus 8 (1910) at the final concert of the DaPonte String Quartet’s winter series II at Brunswick’s Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday.

The Berg was the semi-tonal “meat” in the musical “sandwich” of easily accessible works typical of Maine concerts. The two-movement quartet is full of marvelous ideas, but stated and developed so rapidly that one easily loses track. If he had taken just one, say the “Der Rosenkavalier” dying fall borrowed from Richard Strauss,  and played with it for a while…

The work is very dark, but relatively tonal, making use of numerical and literary allusions, such as repeated two-note sequences based on his own initials, AB. In that way, it reminds me of the work of the late Elliott Schwartz. It also has passages that sound strangely like the French horn in their combination of textures.

The quartet would surely benefit from repeated hearings, maybe on the DaPonte web site? Nothing can compare to live music —the DaPonte presents five concerts throughout Maine in each of its seasonal series—but it took many repeats of a recorded Berg “Altenberg Lieder” before I could begin to appreciate it.

I would certainly like to hear the accelerando cello part once again, and the “Morse Code” sequences in which Berg flirts with serialism.

The program began with another early work, the String Quartet in C Major, Op. 20, No. 2, of Joseph Haydn. The concluding movement, Fuga a quattro soggetti, is “too easy for amateurs, too difficult for professionals,” as one critic quipped. Another noted on the score that it was enough to alienate friends who tried to play it together.
The DaPonte, although thorough professionals, succeeded brilliantly. The only noticeable symptom of a fatiguing schedule came in the relatively simple first movement.

The final quartet was Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony,” which, though childish sounding— its four moments are called, “Boisterous Bourrée,” “Playful Pizzicato,” “Sentimental Sarabande,” and “Frolicsome Finale” because it was written by BB for alliterative violist Audrey Alston —was a total delight. It is funny, light-hearted, clever and exudes the essence of British folk music, far removed from the tragedy of “Peter Grimes.”

Britten was only 20 when he wrote it, but the symphony is based on themes from some even earlier works for piano, which I now have to get my hands on. The false cadences in the finale sound like a parody of Beethoven, whose String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1, it replaced on the program.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal,  He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

You Can’t Get There from Here. MPBN and Music

Commentary by Christopher Hyde

As an ardent Brahmsian I have always been disappointed with the so-called Double Concerto (violin and cello). No matter who plays it, the work never seems to strike the right chord, so to speak.

I was doubly disappointed then to have missed the performance recently by the Portland Symphony Orchestra under Eckhardt Preu, one of the three finalists for the position of PSO music director.

Preu’s version of “American in Paris,” during his all-Gershwin program earlier this season, was little short of miraculous, revealing qualities in the work that I had never heard before. I thought that if he could do that with movie-music by Gershwin, he might be able to give the Brahms concerto the performance it deserved.

All was not lost, however. I learned that Maino Public Broadcasting was to air a recording of the PSO performance at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. I have three computers and several good FM receivers, so I could listen to the performance in the comfort of my music room. How wrong I was!

First, as everyone knows, MPBN no longer plays classical music on its regular stations. It has been relegated to new positions on the dial, like a crazy uncle locked up in the attic. I have never listened to it there, being averse to segregation in any form. But hey, how difficult could it be? Find the new location, dial it up on a good receiver and turn on the stereo. Wrong again.

Either we do not have the right kind of receiver, or the signal from the nearest tower does not reach Pownal. There was absolutely nothing on the dial at the designated position.

By this time it was past 8:00 p.m., but I hoped that Preu would begin with the usual bit of fluff.

My wife recalled that we had stopped subscribing to MPBN when they prevented antenna-using listeners from viewing their programs unless they purchased a particular kind of digital box. Maybe they had done the same with classical music broadcasting.

There was still the computer and something called “live streaming,” I think. Boot up and see. Yes, there it was! IF you purchased a special app (whatever that is) for $99.00. There was a free trial, so we installed it, hoping against hope hat we could unsubscribe after the Brahms ( difficult to do in most circumstances).

There it was, the familiar strains of the vexed concerto, very faint and sounding as if being broadcast through a tin can. This lasted a few seconds and then vanished into the ether, never to return.
By this time,, the concerto was over, prompting a few choice words about MPBN, which has opted to join the talk radio gaggle.

If I want to hear loud, uninformed opinions, poorly and ungrammatically expressed, I can listen to any number of AM stations. If I want to read corporate news, sponsored by the CIA, I can subscribe to the Washington Post.

Enough vilification. The entire pubic broadcasting situation is too sad to contemplate, as organizations that should be supported by public funding turn to corporations for money, self-censor, and take on the coloring of their donors.

I long for the days when Robert J. began one’s day with the quirky “Morning Pro Musica;” when the radio was left on all the time for good music and occasional unbiased news; when the opera was broadcast every weekend; and no one believed they were a member of an intellectual elite just for listening.

So next time they tell you to silence candy wrappers because they’re recording at Merrill Auditorium, don’t believe it. You’ll never hear that concert again. Robert J. will never return, and most of his song birds are extinct.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

A Flawed “Emperor”

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
Mar. 20, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

“Even Homer sometimes nods.” Great composers have their off days, even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the late opera “La clemenza di Tito,” whose overture led off the program of the Portland Symphony Orchestra Tuesday night at Merrill Auditorium.

A packed house had come to hear one of the candidates for music director, Ken-David Masur, lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, (No. 5 in E-flat Major, Opus 73), with Russian-born pianist Natasha Paremski.

An added bonus, after intermission, was the seldom-heard Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60, of Antonín Dvorák, the reason I added the familiar quote about Homer. In most cases there is a reason why works are seldom heard, and the No. 6 is not one of Dvorák’s most inspired compositions.

Sometimes conductors, or soloists, contrive to make a work sound better than it is, but that was not the case on Tuesday. The symphony was certainly pleasant and well played, but lacked inspiration or excitement. Even the Furiant third movement did not come up to the level of any of the Slavonic Dances, which it resembled. Could it have been a dance left out of that set? Waste not, want not.

The rest of the work has the composer’s authentic Bohemian flavor, but in it he lacks the confidence to utilize Slavonic themes to the full extent, which makes it sound somewhat derivative.

Getting back to the main event, one of my favorite concertos of all time, it was also well-played, tempo giusto and accurate to a fault. Paremski has one of the most beautiful portamento techniques I have ever heard—like a string of well-matched pearls, as my piano teacher used to say. In that regard, she was perfectly suited to Beethoven’s writing for piano.

In other regards, not so much. The bass lacked power, and the sforzando chords often sounded febrile rather than powerful. The orchestra and piano occasionally ran on different tracks, and the whole lacked coherence and drive, in spite of some memorable passage work and interplay between the piano and orchestral sections.

The audience gave it the usual standing ovation, and Paremski, thankfully, did not play an encore, but all-in-all, the performance was not the transcendent experience it could have been. I was once admonished: “A musical performance is not a religious experience.” To quote Woody Allen in another context: “It is if it’s done right.”

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

An Exciting POPS by the Midcoast Symphony

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Franco Center, Lewiston
Mar. 17, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra’s “Celebration Pops,” Saturday night at Lewiston’s Franco Center, was just that: popular.  It attracted the largest crowd I have seen at one of the Midcoast’s concerts.

In spite of being about 2 hours long, including intermission with crepes and wine, the pace never flagged, due to the infectious energy of guest conductor Yoichi Udagawa, who was just getting into his stride with a gloriously hokey encore of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” complete with a three-piccolo obligato and a flag-waving baseball cap. The Boston Pops couldn’t have done it better.

Udagawa has a penchant for fast tempos, which works better with some popular classics than with others. It made the orchestra struggle a bit with the Shostakovich Festive Overture, which opened he program, but was more effective in Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from “Rodeo,” and absolutely perfect with the jigs from Leroy Anderson’s “Irish Suite.”

Anderson has become a little too popular to be taken as seriously as he should be. HIs sensitive arrangement of well-known Irish tunes, however, was one of the high points of the evening.

We came to the event primarily to hear pianist Charles Floyd play “Rhapsody in Blue.” HIs interpretation of the Rachmaninov Concerto No. 2 with the Midcoast, a few years back, was unforgettable.

What happened was one of those irresistible force meets immovable object dilemmas, when Floyd’s long lines and exploration of inner voices came in contact with Udagawa’s up-tempo interpretation. A concerto is always a battle between orchestra and soloist, but this one ended in a truce that was satisfying to both parties, retaining the excitement of Gershwin’s improvisations while revealing some inner harmonies unheard in more technical performances.

I generally detest encores after concerto performances, as detracting from the main event, but Floyd’s deeply felt variations on “America” seemed appropriate. It made me think of the scene in “RIdley Walker,” when the hero comes across the ruins of Salisbury Cathedral and exclaims,”What we been…and what we are now.”

After conducting the audience in clapping for the “Colonel Bogey March,” Udagawa ended the regular program with a sultry and explosive Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delila,” that brought out the best from all sections of the orchestra.

I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s (Sunday’s) concert at the Orion Center is sold out, but if tickets are still available it would be well worth hearing.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

The Piano Monster Tamed

Piano Monster Concert
Snow Pond Center for the Arts, Sidney
Mar. 3, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

What music critic could pass up something called The Piano Monster Concert? Shades of Creole pianist Louis Moreau Gottshalk, who once assembled 64 grand pianos for a play-along in South America. That my grandson, Jordan Seavey, took part in the event  is merely coincidental.

The concert was the brainchild of the Maine Music Teachers Association, Christine KIssack of Falmouth and Ginger Yang Hwalek of Bangor. Hwalek  conducted the ensemble  late Saturday afternoon,  in the jam-packed Alumni Hall of the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. Kissack was in charge of the mind-boggling logistics.

There were 98 performers, 12 pianos —two concert grands and 10 spinet-sized consoles- -and 15 teachers, including Hwalek and Kissack. The teachers sometimes performed alongside their students, and sometimes just turned pages. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but the piano players ranged in age from early grade-school to adult, with the majority skewed toward youth.

All of them were good—due to advances in pedagogy most Juilliard graduates have better technique than Liszt or Paderewski—and more surprising, watched the conductor closely for tempo and volume instructions. The unity was remarkable, even in the first two numbers, “Tamborine,” and “Magical March,” by Margaret Goldston, played by the youngest pianists.

The numbers of musicians in each piece varied from about a dozen to a maximum of 26, sometimes sitting three to a bench for piano-six-hands performance, as in “Bob’s Blues,” which Seavey has been practicing on our piano.

Recitals can be excruciating, especially those involving stringed instruments. This one, which lasted about an hour, was entertaining throughout, with well-selected pieces that showed off what could be done with the combination of pianos and electronic keyboards. The latter provided some real sostenuto in “Romantic Interlude,” by Beatrice Miller, and added to the authenticity of works in the Blues, Ragtime, country fiddling and and big-band styles. “Brightwood Barn,” by Robert D. Vandall, which ended the program, was a real barn burner to the tune of “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailer?”

The classics were not neglected, with some nice up-tempo selections from Beethoven’s “Six Country Dances,” an arrangement of the overture to “Carmen,” a well-known Gigue by Corelli and the first movement of the Mozart Sonata in D Major, K.381. The latter involved a serious attempt to bring out the often unheard voices. Mozart, who wrote for clockwork organs, would have had fun with a keyboard.

I am in awe of the effort and logistics involved in putting The Piano Monster Concert together—just getting all the performers on stage at the right time was a feat in itself. To have transformed it into an enjoyable musical event is extraordinary.

Dimmick Excels in Barber Violin Concerto

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
Feb. 11, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Guest conductor Paul Polivnik did a fine job with the Portland Symphony Orchestra Sunday afternoon at Merrill Auditorium, when Music director Robert Moody was unable to officiate due to the death of his father.

Polivnik, currently music director and conductor emeritus of the New Hampshire Music Festival, has worked with many of the world’s leading orchestras and,  in spite of a few technical glitches by individual players, was able to get the best out of the PSO at short notice, earning several standing ovations.

The high point of the afternoon was a performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 16, by concert master Charles Dimmick., who was equally at home in the first two lyrical movements and the fiendish finale.

There is still some controversy about this work, the violinist who commissioned it having turned it down because the finale was too difficult. Critics have said that the explanation can’t be right, since the violinist in question was a virtuoso, but knowing Barber’s piano works—and witnessing Dimmicks prestissimo fingering,— I find the explanation quite satisfactory.

A more important question is the fit of the final presto with what has gone before. No one seems to have noticed the gaelic flavor of the first two movements, with a jig-like motif appearing now and then, even in those funereal sections that are indicated by the beat of a muffled drum. Perhaps the concerto is an American “Death and Transfiguration,” with the flight of the soul portrayed by vastly increasing the tempo of fragments introduced earlier. I loved the ending, with a piano glissando leading up to the final abrupt note on the violin.

Whatever the explanation, the performance by Dimmick was utterly convincing, overcoming some significant lapses in Barber’s orchestration. You do not pit the solo violin against trumpets, the French horn maybe, but not the massed brass, unless you want a string fortissimo to disappear. Polivnik was able to ameliorate the worst of the excesses, but they were still obvious.

The other “modern” work on the program, “Alternative Energy” by Mason Bates (b. 1977), although well played (I think), was not as successful. I could not read all of the program, so I imagined each of the four movements as depicting forms of energy—Fords Farm, the automobile, Chicago, wind power, Xinjiang Province, solar, and Reykjavick, geothermal. Amid the blurts, rumblings and squeaks, the program worked pretty well, down to the recorded seabird calls stolen from Rutavaara’s “Cantus Arcticus.”

It turns out that the symphony depicts an historical dystopia in which a Chinese nuclear plant blows up and the remaining humans, living in a rain forest in Iceland, long for the days of the Model T. Close enough. Syncopated chords tossed around the orchestra get old fast.

The concluding “Bolero” was a miraculously controlled crescendo, with a few nicks in the paint consisting of muffed entrances, which tend to stand out like a sore thumb in Ravel’s orchestration. It nevertheless deserved its own standing ovation.

As usual, the opening work on the program, Brahms’ “Academic Festival” Overture, made me long for college days, which were actually among the more miserable of experiences. Next time, I’ll go to Heidelberg, drink lots of beer and emerge with a duelling scar.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

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