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ARCHIVE: SSSO at Carnegie Hall (October 2016)

Originally published 10/28/2016

Tonight's concert by the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall was a triumph on all counts. The concert began with a taut performance of Smetana's Overture to the Bartered Bride, conducted by Larry Rachleff. Judging from the tight-knit ensemble and bracing tempo, it was also well taught. In the clear acoustics of Carnegie Hall, there is no place to hide defects. The hall also illuminates great precision, something on display all evening. Credit for that goes to Rachleff. It is one thing to be masterful on a musical instrument, but quite another to play well with others. This conductor excels at training young musicians to form a cohesive unit that can convey unified interpretations. This is crucial not only to getting but also keeping an orchestra job.

Second on the program was Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto, with soloist Jon Kimura Parker. Beginning with a beautiful clarinet solo, the orchestra played the accompaniment with precision and polish. Parker was brilliant in the multi-faceted and difficult piano part. He took a chamber music approach that allowed for spontaneity with flawless ensemble. His tone was sensitive and varied, and his careful voicing illuminated the music. The performance was rewarded with a standing ovation from the sizable audience.

Pierre Jalbert is earning a well-deserved reputation as a gifted young composer. "In Terra" was written for this world-premiere performance. According to Jalbert, it means In Earth, and refers to layers of history and geology. The work is masterfully orchestrated and promotes a visual scan of the orchestra to see what is happening simultaneously in different sections. The young musicians were fully committed to this new work– in fact, they owned its premiere. Such events are needed to refresh and expand the body of classical music. We tend to forget that even the best-known works had a first performance.

The final work on the program was Witold Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra, completed in 1945. This was the last of four performances, and Rachleff and the orchestra appeared to be enjoying themselves. All sections of the orchestra were equally impressive, but parts for the viola section were prominently displayed and well played. The brass section was powerful without being overbearing, and their sound was quite impressive. Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra is performed much more often, possibly due to this work's difficulty. It is also more difficult to conduct, which was no impediment for Rachleff. The high level of preparation provided a professional sounding performance.

As an encore, the symphony played "Masks" from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Suite. Rachleff hardly conducted, which showed off the orchestra's expertise and the conductor's faith in it. As with the Lutoslawski, a standing ovation followed, capping off a triumphant evening.

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