in: Reviews

August 2, 2009

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra Comes to Jamaica Pond

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On Sunday, July 26, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra presented a free neighborhood concert in the Pinebank Promontory, a newly opened site that is part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system. Featuring the world premiere of Thomas Oboe Lee’s The Story of Frederick Law Olmsted, Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian,” the concert continued conductor Charles Ansbacher’s long mission to present “exceptional orchestral music performances in significant architectural, historical, and geographical settings.”

Set in an open space where the Pinebank mansion used to overlook Jamaica Pond, the intimate space of the Promontory and the shade from the surrounding trees created an ideal setting for the late afternoon concert and a surprising impromptu festival of Gilded-Age Americana—Mayoral candidate Sam Yoon passed through the crowd shaking hands and asking for votes; unruly dogs barked intermittently as families picnicked, children danced, and tandem bicyclists pushed through the crowd. This Americana was also present in Lee’s musical portrait of Olmsted, accompanying a text by Nancy Stevenson. Written in the cursory style of late 19th- century band music, (think John Phillip Sousa) Lee’s piece evoked a series of pictures drawn from Olmsted’s life and work as the pre-eminent American landscape architect of the period. (The Emerald Necklace is one of his most valued legacies.) Appropriately, Landmark will perform the piece twice more this summer in its series “Concerts for Children” in August.

Despite only being recently discovered in Prague (1961), Haydn’s C major Cello concerto already has earned its place in the cello repertoire as a fine example of his early sonata-allegro form and for its particularly idiomatic writing in the third movement. Donald Francis Tovey notes that Haydn’s concertos “give remarkable scope for the art of the virtuoso player”; and Jacqueline Choi, the soloist of the evening, took advantage of that scope in her performance. Her interpretation showed an artistic understanding of Haydn’s early sonata form dialect, while Ansbacher’s baton revealed the ritornello ancestry of the form. Further, Choi’s gorgeous first-movement cadenza embraced the development of Haydn’s style, climaxing with a dissonance that reminded one of his later works. Overall, despite a bit of rushing in the third movement, her performance showed the comfort and confidence of an emergent virtuoso.

In Mendelssohn’s “Italian,” Ansbacher put his orchestra through its paces and the result was marvelous. The interpretation was strong, particularly the religiously inspired second movement and the frenetic Saltarello/Tarantella of the last. Indeed, Ansbacher seemed so pleased with the orchestra’s performance that he provided two encores-the last of which was the crowd-pleasing Overture to Guillaume Tell. In this the intimacy of the evening was topped off when Ansbacher cued the crowd when it should (and should not) clap along. In all, it made for a wonderful summer evening of music and Americana.

The Boston Landmark Orchestra will continue its free concert series this Wednesday at the Hatch Shell on the Boston Esplanade, when Benjamin Zander will lead the Youth Orchestra of the Americas and pianist Gabriela Montero in a performance of music by Bernstein, Dvorak, and Rachmaninoff.  Bring a blanket, a sandwich and a parasol, for the Esplanade has fewer trees than the promontory!

Joseph Morgan is a graduate of Brandeis University where he studied early German romantic opera. He lives and teaches in the Boston area and has never ridden a tandem bicycle.

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