Conductor Steven Lipsitt and the Boston Classical Orchestra performed a program of Schumann, Mendelssohn, and a new composition by Boston composer Howard Frazin in Faneuil Hall on October 25. The BCO, as with many performing ensembles in town, boasts the idea of intimacy in their concert settings. But what exactly does an intimate concert experience entail? Does it imply a relatively smaller audience? A personable concert venue?
BCO delivered its PR claim: a relaxed, inviting form of audience interaction. The pre-concert talk was actually a talk, and not a lecture. Pre-concert speaker Mary Ann Nichols and Howard Frazin had an interesting, accessible discussion on the inception of his premiered overture for chamber orchestra, In the Forests of the Night, as well as the interaction between the composer and the musicians throughout the rehearsal process. The song on which Frazin’s piece was based, a setting of William Blake’s The Tyger, was performed during the well-attended pre-concert session by mezzo Krista River and pianist Linda Osborn-Blaschke.
Hearing Frazin’s song on The Tyger first drastically heightened the effectiveness of the orchestral piece. Aside from being acquainted with the poetic context of the piece (which in its orchestral version has no text), it also allowed the listener to appreciate better the thoughtful orchestration of the melodies, since much of the overture material is taken directly from the song. Having an instrumental piece that both poetically and dramatically follows the form of a text allows for an unusually explicit expression of the programmatic aspect of the music. The piece still works very well outside of this context, however. The piece flows seamlessly, breathing in long phrases while harmonies shift rapidly and constantly underneath expressive melodies. In The Forests of the Night was accessible and familiar, yet filled with emotional tension and dramatic complexity. It was a good choice for BCO to commission Frazin to write a piece for its 30th season; Frazin’s music is pensive and original, while still within the immediate grasp of classical musicians and audiences.
Before the orchestra began Schumann’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, featured violinist Jennifer Frautschi casually shared some background on the piece. Though atypical, it was refreshing to hear the soloist talk passionately about the piece she was about to perform. This concerto is peculiar, as it was one of the last large-ensemble works Schumann, and did not have the opportunity to be polished by the composer in the way he did with his other works. The creation of the piece overlapped with his mental deterioration, and was removed from his collected works by his wife after his death. Frautschi’s performance was poignant and impassioned. The work does have its awkward moments, but reveals some interesting insights into Schumann’s compositional process – similar to the fashion in which the audience was offered insights into Howard Frazin’s piece.
After Frautschi graced the audience with a brief solo Bach encore, the orchestra played I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a five and ten cent store), in humorous self-deprecation with conductor Steven Lipsitt playing clarinet. Many ensembles are in difficult financial situations, and this was the most personal and wittiest plea for support I’ve seen from a performing organization. The final performance was of Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony. The BCO programmed the piece to honor the bicentennial of the composer’s birth – as did the BSO when it performed it this past Spring. In many ways, the BCO is able to provide a more accurate realization of Mendelssohn’s music with its smaller forces, as Mendelssohn usually favored writing for Mozart’s orchestra instead of larger Romantic orchestras that were becoming more and more popular during his career. The more compact string sections allowed for expressive clarity, with very little sacrifice of the musical drama. The performance, as with the rest of the program, was compelling, unpretentious, and… well… intimate.