in: Reviews

January 28, 2013

Demanding Program Appreciated

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Abetted by the singular talents of two excellent soloists, French Horn player Eric Ruske, and tenor Rockland Osgood, The Orchestra of Indian Hill made an excellent showing Sunday at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center in the third outing of its six-concert season with a demanding program of Stravinsky, Mozart, and Britten. As an introduction I am re-posting the introduction to my earlier review of this estimable ensemble:

A treasure of Boston’s Metro West is The Orchestra of Indian Hill, an eye and ear-opening ensemble of some 75 professional instrumentalists, which has been offering a varied and happily top-notch series of concerts to its very loyal supporters and patrons since 1975. The orchestra has prospered under the leadership its present Artistic Director and Conductor Bruce Hangen since 1997, so much so that the ensemble is now regularly heard in very demanding programs that raise the bar for so-called regional orchestra proficiency and virtuosity. Many of the orchestra’s regular players are seasoned veterans of the Boston freelance pool of instrumentalists who play regularly with the city’s most prestigious choral and orchestral ensembles.  Hangen, too, is no stranger to greater Boston audiences, having been Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Pops in over 300 concerts over the past 30 years. He is also Director of Orchestral Activities at Boston Conservatory, and conductor of that school’s orchestra. Mr. Hangen, in short has paid his dues, and it shows quite brilliantly in Littleton, where the Indian Hill Orchestra performs a six-concert symphonic season. Lucky indeed, those classical music lovers of the western suburbs to have an orchestra of such distinction in their nearby environs.

This Sunday, Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for Strings made for a bracing opener, with Mr. Hangen’s clear directing easing some of the difficulties of Stravinsky’s idiomatic yet uncompromisingly demanding writing.  The Indian Hill string players were with him all the way in this engaging but somewhat odd composition that occasionally seems obsessed with maneuvering over and under a fixed pitch and tonality, often centered on a minor-second interval.  Yet it also can also offer a superb Arioso in its second movement that spins out one of this craggy composer’s most sustained and elegant melodies.

Eric Ruske then came on stage to play Mozart’s delightful Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 4 in E-flat Major, K. 495.   It was a fine outing for both Ruske and the Orchestra, with Hangen setting ideal tempi throughout the work, allowing all the subtleties and nuances of this remarkable concerto to focus and coalesce.  The bountiful applause at the concerto’s conclusion may have demonstrated the audience’s gratitude to the players for returning to more familiar tonal territory, but certainly also its admiration for Mr. Ruske’s no-nonsense approach to this elegant, and in its irrepressible fourth movement, rollicking music.

Rockland Osgood is one of music’s true treasures, a stylish tenor of very broad repertoire, all of which he invests with thoughtful preparation and invariably elegant voice.  His artful singing was the perfect match to Benjamin Britten’s superb 1943 Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, a work that demands depth of emotion, musical high-mindedness, and of course superb technique from all its performers.  Britten was a potent musical force in the late 20th-century and he created a large body of work that continually astonishes for its superb craftsmanship and range.  The Serenade’s magical combination of the varied timbres of the French Horn, tenor voice, and string orchestra—not forgetting the cannily selected wide-ranging poetry—elevate this music to near the top of this composer’s oeuvre.  Hangen, Ruske, and Osgood never failed to remind us of this in their traversal of this very deep music, and the Indian Hill Strings were admirably equal partners.

I admit it was difficult for me to adjust to the switch from the magical Britten Serenade to Mozart’s Olympian Symphony No. 41 in C-major, K. 551, “Jupiter.”  Could two compositions be more different from one another?  Having said this, though, I found that Hangen and the now full complement of Indian Hill players gave a robust account of this amazing symphony, its final movement’s contrapuntal miracles being especially well realized in this performance.

That the local population is highly appreciative of Indian Hill’s Orchestra was clearly evident.  The lengthy program book abounds with ads from local businesses, the professionalism of the management and staff is palpable, and Hangen’s rapport with his audience is obvious by his well-attended pre-concert talks and his post-concert “from-the-stage” Q and A sessions.  And, once again the large hall was virtually sold out, packed with thankfully silent and attentive admirers.  Bravo!

John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 34 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 30 years.

4 Comments

  1. I love a good Mozart as much as anyone, but I’ll admit I was quite taken with the Britten here. I thought Osgood’s voice was lovely and hauntingly lovely in this piece. The combination with the horn, as well as the text about sleep and states of semi-consciousness, made for some wonderfully intense listening.

    Comment by Jeff Sauer — January 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm

  2. Superb performance!! Two special and unique offerings of the Indian Hill Orchestra performances are the pre-concert talk by the conductor, Bruce Hangen, introducing the music and guest performers. This highly educational, and entertaining half-hour adds depth and addtional understanding to the upcoming performance. And the post-concert gathering, (Stage Talk or Encore Cafe), allowing concert-goers to ask questions of and get to know the conductor and/or guest performer in a personal and direct way. I find these extra benefits to the performance a particular treat!

    Comment by Mary Livingston — January 28, 2013 at 5:11 pm

  3. The Orchestra of Indian Hill Music consistently produces superb music under the direction of Maestro Hangen. He has a particularly sensitive instinct for encouraging his players to complement soloists, and in turn the soloists respond to the orchestra with energy and appreciation. Every concert also gives listeners the full and richly nuanced joy of a full orchestra responding to Bruce Hangen with wonderful color and clarity. I’m struck by the ability of the ensemble to express both deep emotions and bright humor.

    Comment by Hugh Fortmiller — January 28, 2013 at 5:36 pm

  4. I was so glad I attended the pre-concert talk by Maestro Hangen. He explained in very accessible terms what the Stravinsky piece was “about” – an exploration, a celebration, a meditation on the musical half-step. When I understood how Stravinsky approached this challenge, the concerto unfolded like a complex flower, revealing complexity, beauty and symmetry which I would not have appreciated without the talk. Bravo Indian Hill Music!

    Comment by Jonathan Panek — January 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm

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