You-review-it Monday

April 2, 2012
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For me, it was a weekend overloading on theater at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville (mark your calendar for next year).

What did I miss in Indy? Acting Up's "A Steady Rain"? DK's Shakespearean program? "The Screwtape Letters" at Clowes?

Your thoughts? What did you see, hear or otherwise experience over the weekend?

  • ISO, Butler and Ensemble Voltaire
    On Friday night I attended the Indianapolis Symphony concert at the Circle Theater. Krzysztof Urbanski conducted a program of rather unfamiliar works with one Romantic period favorite. Urbanski began the concert with a work by Polish composer Wojchiech Kilar entitled Krzesany, the third new work from his homeland that he has introduced this season. Reading the program notes before it started, I expected something much more flavored with folk music, as it is a mountain dance. It is a rather heavy-handed exploration of monumental sonorities, starting with extremely dense and loud string tone clusters that are answered by similar structures in the brass. I found it difficult, though I was surprised at the reception the audience gave it. The crowd was not nearly as large as it was for Urbanski’s last several concerts, probably due to the unfamiliarity of most of the repertoire. The rest of the first half was given to the Elgar Cello Concerto with soloist Zuill Bailey. He is a terrific cellist and explored extreme emotional levels in this work, which I was hearing live for the first time. The remarkably soft passages were interesting to listen to, but perhaps were too intrusive to the melodic nature of the work. The soloist’s expressive face and mannerisms added to the emotional involvement. The orchestra did a great job with a difficult accompaniment that featured some extensive solo moments for the horns and woodwinds.
    The second half featured three of the six tone poems that make up Bedrich Smetana’s Ma Vlast (My Homeland). The Czech composer’s most famous work is Vltava, known by most by its German translation – Moldau. This is the river that flows through Prague, and this section of the work is played by orchestras throughout the world. Its big tune is instantly recognized by audiences. The performance of this portion of the work was rather understated compared to many readings, and it flowed nicely. Urbanski conducted everything but the cello solo without score, and his left hand danced and demonstrated the mood throughout. The other two sections were Vysehrad (The High Castle) and Sarka. The latter is a description of the adventures of the Seventh Century female warrior who declares war on all men. The trombone section has a nice moment that represents the death of the leader of the male forces. This is a big and bombastic work with some comic touches thrown in, and it was a very effective ending to the concert. The Vysehrad section begins with an elaborate harp cadenza that was wonderfully well played. This concert was recorded on both performances and will appear in an upcoming CD that will be Urbanski’s first American recording. His efforts this season have been remarkable indeed, and although this concert was not as well attended as the others, it was an artistic success. Urbanski will next conduct the orchestra in two pairs in late May.
    On Saturday I attended the graduate conducting recital of Angelo Anton at Butler University. It was a program of wind chamber works that began with Mendelssohn’s delightful Overture opus 24, written when the composer was all of 17. The wind ensemble consisted of a blend of Butler music students and members of the Indiana Wind Symphony, of which Angelo is a trombonist. The Mendelssohn was generally well-played although there were a couple of balance issues. Angelo did a nice job throughout with the conducting, as he was restrained but clear and precise. The work is scored for 13 winds, with the clarinets and bassoons featured often. Gordon Jacob’s set of old English folktunes Old Wine in New Bottles followed and featured some nice flute solos by Erin Nichols. It utilizes the same instrumentation as the Mendelssohn. The brass and percussion took over after intermission, and did a very good job with Paul Dukas Fanfare pour preceder La Peri, probably his second most famous work after The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. An arrangement of JS Bach’s chorale setting of Come Sweet Death and Brian Balmages Symphony #1 for Brass completed the concert. Balmages work is a boldly written piece, especially demanding of the trumpets. Brian Hoover had some extremely tough solos and played them splendidly.
    I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at the Athenaeum for a concert with Ensemble Voltaire. A single large scale work was on the program – JS Bach’s late masterpiece A Musical Offering. This set of contrapuntal pieces was written when the composer was 62 in 1747, and its theme was a melody written by Frederick the Great, the Prussian King, on the occasion of Bach’s visit to Berlin and Potsdam. Thomas Gerber played the harpsichord and led the performance. The other members were violinist Allison Guest Edbert, viola da gambist Christina Kyprianides and flutist Kelly Nivison Roudabush, who also plays piccolo with the Indiana Wind Symphony. Roudabush played a wooden baroque style flute that had a warm sound, especially in the lower register that was featured extensively by this work. The intonation of all of the players was outstanding, and the lack of vibrato focuses one’s attention on this aspect. A great deal of scholarship and interpretation went into this performance, and a narrator did a fine job with the explanation of the contrapuntal devices employed by Bach and the instrumental choices made by the ensemble. All in all a very good weekend for classical music in Indy.

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