Monday, July 24, 2017

Sometimes it all comes together....

It can be hot and humid this time of the year in southwestern Pennsylvania, and the pop-up rain showers do not calm it down. But on July 20, 2017, 1974 Unity Chapel, in Latrobe, PA hosted a beautiful respite from the heat- a cool chamber concert, sponsored by the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, in the stunning foothills of the Laurel Highlands.  The artists were the Duo Cieli (John Marcinizyn, guitar; and Tara Yaney flute) and the Ferla-Marcinizyn Guitar Duo.  The program was quite varied, ranging from the New Age-y "Evening Dance" by Andrew York to the jazz-inspired compositions of Pat Metheny, Django Reinhardt, and Robert Lamm.   The three Piazzolla pieces (Bordello, Cafe and Nightclub) and were written over a 60-year period, and as played by Duo Cieli, were less overtly tango sounding than some of the composer's other works.  There was a particularly strong performance of an arrangement for guitar of Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4," which the Guitar Duo managed to transform a 1960's pop song to a sophisticated and fresh work. The Irish folk-tune, "Si Beheag, Si Mhor" was spellbinding in this flute and guitar version.  The most successful work of the evening was the gorgeous "Sonata in G" by Ferdinando Carulli,  a 1770's  Italian composer who authored an early guide for guitarists.  It was stunning in the warm acoustics of this chapel.  The balance between the flute and the two amplified guitars was nearly perfect.

The three musicians who played as a group, and in varied pairings were masterful.  Ms. Yaney produced a warm, never indulgent tone. Marcinizyn and Ferla are first-rate guitar players.  They were accurate and controlled; they avoided making that sliding sound or finger squeaks that foul many a guitar performance by lesser artists. Overall this was a wonderful concert in an equally wonderful space, attended by about 200 people.  That nice turn-out is a tribute to the Westmoreland Symphony's outreach as well as for the support the community shows for Western Art Music.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Runnicles and Smith- a dream team.....

Tight control of all things musical is the hallmark of a performance by Donald Runnicles when he is on the podium with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. As Principal Guest Conductor for over a decade and a half, Runnicles appears to have developed a very productive and respectful musical relationship with the ASO that leads to top-tier performances. Their performances of late 19th-century and mid-20th-century French music in this concert continued that strong partnership.  For the complete review, click here:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Gorgeous evening in Zagreb...

The Zagreb Philharmonic makes its home in the Vatroslav Lisinki Concert Hall in the Nu Zagreb neighborhood.  It was opened in 1973 and has undergone at least two major interior renovations, but its exterior remains essential in its late-mid-century style. It has 1841 seats with no balconies and no side boxes.  The floor of the hall is a continuous slope from the stage level to about three stories.  There are no center columns, so there are unbroken sight lines throughout.  The visible walls of the auditorium are covered in a rich, golden brown, walnut-colored wood.  The stage appeared to be exceptionally wide, with space to house the organ console, the pipes of which are located behind the stage.   The auditorium is very important to the sound of this orchestra as will be noted.
The orchestra tuned on stage, much like is done in the US, but unlike what is done in Vienna, for example. The concertmaster tunes the orchestra by actually walking through it to each section. The audience never once rose to its collective feet for a standing ovation, as seems to be de rigueur in the US.
The program began with Shlomo Mintz conducting  “Hommage a Bach” by Croatian composer Boris Papandopulo, who lived from 1906 to 1991.  Mostly unknown in U.S. concert halls, he created a large body of works ranging from ballets, to operas, to chamber works.  This “Hommage” was derivative and unimaginative, but sounded like the master in modern dress.

The next work was Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins- likely one of his most popular and frequently heard works.  Maestro Mintz was joined by Ukraine-born violinist Orest Shourgot, who was once concertmaster of the Zagreb Philharmonic.  He currently holds Croatian citizenship.  The two violinists created musical magic in this performance.  It was note-perfect, and showed a warmth and regard for the music that was impressive.  Mintz, of course, is one of the leading violinists today, and Shourgot seemed equally gifted. This was a magnificent performance. 

The final work on the program was Brahms’s Symphony No. 2.  This was the work that demonstrated the magnificent acoustics of the Lisinsky auditorium.  The hall provides warmth and beautiful reverberation, without a trace of muddiness.  This was particularly noticeable when the tympani played; each strike was crisp and clean, but never cold.  In addition, the first and second violins were nicely spotlighted, yet always integrated with the sound of the entire orchestra.  It was not a perfect performance (the horns had occasional trouble), but it was transcendent.  The sound of the orchestra was so burnished that it was easy to totally engage the thinking brain, and simply enjoy a masterpiece- played by a wonderful orchestra, led by a talented conductor in a lovely sounding hall.  This is when one can truly appreciate the power of a grand work by a grand master. 

When the concert was over, it was a short walk through the Viennese-like lower town, past Zagreb’s beautifully lit Baroque museums to the city center.  In all, the whole evening was gorgeous.