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ARCHIVE: SSSO (September 2013)

Originally published 9/29/2013

I went to hear the Shepherd School Chamber Orchestra tonight at a packed Stude Concert Hall. The concert began with Beethoven's Egmont Overture, professionally conducted by graduate student Thomas Hong. Both the conductor and the orchestra were well-prepared. Attention to details of dynamics, articulation, tuning, balance of chords, and ensemble contributed to a highly dramatic reading. This was followed by the Haydn D-Major Cello Concerto, with faculty cellist Desmond Hoebig and conductor Larry Rachleff. From the opening tutti it was clear this would not be a routine orchestral accompaniment. Here, and throughout the concerto, the orchestra played with a classical period style that was at once luminous and transparent, flexible and balanced. The texture enabled Hoebig to freely project his beautiful and unforced sound. As with the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the technical passages are deceptively difficult, given the rather straightforward harmonic structure. Hoebig played with an extraordinary accuracy that never drew attention to itself, but allowed the music to unfold naturally and elegantly. Soloist, conductor, and orchestra were of one mind, with that mind being Haydn's. Simply put, there is no finer playing of this concerto to be found or heard anywhere.

Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” opened the second half. Originally written for solo piano, Ravel orchestrated four of the original six movements. In the first three movements the orchestral textures evoke watercolors, while the brilliant fourth movement, fully utilizing the French horns and trumpet, takes on the texture of oil paints. All sections of the orchestra and solo winds were exemplary in their subtle style and sensitivity. Special note should be made of the exceedingly difficult oboe part, a virtual concerto given its prominence. It was given a stunning performance by Titus Underwood. Make note of that name, as he is destined for great things in music. I should also note that Titus is an African-American. While no longer unusual in classical music as a whole, this remains fairly unusual for the oboe. If I have ever observed a person’s natural affinity for an instrument, I saw it this evening, showing that musical talent is not limited by gender, race, or background, but is open to all possibilities.

Concluding the well-conceived and thoughtfully conducted program was Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes, an orchestral showpiece. Setting the stage was the opening cello solo accompanied by harp, sensitively played by Coleman Itzkoff and Naomi Hoffmeyer. Outstanding wind and string solos followed, including dazzling orchestral tuttis. Of special note to me was the viola solo, performed by Jarita Ng. This is one of the most difficult solos in the repertoire, ranging from contorted forte chords and double-stops to soft trills and sustained notes in the highest register. Ng seamlessly shifted from a controlled piano to dramatic fortes and back again to piano, which required determination and concentration. The sparkling concluding Rondo was followed by the concert’s second standing ovation, the first being for the cello concerto. This was a concert of well-deserved superlatives and I was thankful to hear it.

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