Quite a celebration took place at Jordan Hall on Wednesday evening June 3. The Consulate General of Italy in Boston, Liborio Stellino, was on hand to observe Italy’s “National Day-the anniversary of the foundation of the Italian republic…Italians feel themselves at home in Boston, where the best of our cultural traditions have been welcomed…”
In his concert program entry, Birth of the Italian Republic: Nenni, Togliatti, De Gasperi, Spencer DiScala, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Boston, traces the various political incidences that culminated in the establishment of a “free regime,” this, taking place 63 years ago. Also noted, the president of the Italian Republic awarded Maestro Federico Cortese with the medal of “Officer of the Order to the Merit of the Republic.”
Il Canto degli Italiani and The Star-Spangled Banner began Concerto per la Repubblica which featured revered works of Italian composers performed by the celebrated New England String Ensemble along with young soloists from the Boston area, all winners of NESE’s 2009 Youth String Concerto Competition.
First up – Ottorino Respighi. What a performance it was that the New England String Ensemble under the baton of its Music Director Cortese came up with for Ancient Airs and Dances! When the final movement (Passacaglia) ended, I could hardly believe that Respighi’s 3rd suite was over. Moments of unordinary gravity and grace marked their performance that felt like feet were lifted from the ground in dance. Turning Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet in E Minor into a string orchestra piece really showed just what the addition of a double bass instrument and more players can do-turn distance into immediacy.
These remarkably refined strings created still more sensuous and sonic hues in Italian favorites: Giacomo Puccini’s I Crisantemi and Pietro Mascagni’s Intermezzo sinfonico from Cavalleria rusticana. String orchestra versions express as much as purify.
A stranger to many of us, Alessandra Rolla (1757-1841) composed four viola concertos, and if that is not unique enough, he wrote them all in the same key. 2009 Youth String Concerto Competition co-winner Jacob Shack brought a most attractive if not mystifying tone (is this a viola? I had to ask myself) to the slow movement of Rolla’s Viola Concerto in E-flat Major, Op. 3. The 17-year-old viola soloist attends Phillips Academy in Andover.
Contrastingly, NESE competition co-winner Joinatsuru Yanai brought a presence and exuberance further elevating the allegro moderato movement of Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 9 in B-flat Major. She took care of most of the many passages (some of them treacherous) calling for higher positions on the highest string (A). The 17-year-old cello soloist attends the Walnut Hill School in Natick.
Last up-Antonio Vivaldi, a master of thrilling string orchestra composition. And thrilling it really was to behold four young and accomplished fiddlers aged 14-17 performing in a movement from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor. Each of these third-place winners had a distinctive voice turning Vivaldi into a most fascinating musical dialogue. Kyumin Lee (Lexington High School), Francesa Bass (Lawrence School in Brookline), Ruby Mercure, and Nash Ryder (Danvers, MA) were brought back for an encore.
No real red flags flying during this celebration. There were intonation flare-ups; solo-orchestra interplay once in a while went missing. Cortese, New England String Ensemble, youth soloists and music of Italian composers all made for a totally enjoyable evening. If only young students from the Boston area could have been present to see and hear-be inspired by-such sparkling role models