in: Reviews

January 25, 2010

Counter-Tenor Derring-Do, Piccolos Highlight Indian Hill Orchestra Concert in Littleton

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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.

The Orchestra’s virtually sold-out January 24th offering, “Baroque and Beyond,” was notable for its freshness of repertoire and variety of programming. Hangen opened with the J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concerto, #2, with its stratospheric piccolo trumpet part played with ease and taste by Greg Whitaker. Markus Placci, violin, Nancy Dimock, oboe, and Melissa Mielens, flute were the other skillful soloists. Hangen’s choice of tempo was ideal, as it was throughout the afternoon. The small ensemble was fleet and light on its feet, in short, ideally matched to the music. The orchestra next turned its attention to a suite of seven dances drawn from Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s 1739 opera-ballet Les Fêtes d’Hébé. While nicely essayed, I thought the larger ensemble that Hangen had assembled too large for the music, and any significant sense of Baroque affect was in too small supply. This, though, did not dampen the grace the players demonstrated with their playing, nor the exuberant enthusiasm of the audience at the suite’s end.

The concert’s first half closed with the amusing and engaging Funeral Music for an Artful Canary: A Tragi-Comic Cantata by Georg Phillip Telemann. Matthew Truss was the imposing counter-tenor, who gamely sported a canary-yellow shirt and tie for the performance. Truss, a two-time finalist in the New England Regional Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions has been the recipient of many awards and has sung several major counter-tenor roles in his recent past, among them that of Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

He is clearly involved with his texts, and it was fun to watch the audience – and the orchestra – react to his characterizations. He should, however, work on his German pronunciation: gute nacht should not sound like “goo-tay” nacht! But this was of no matter, really, as the audience roared it approval at the end of this alternately poignant and tongue-in-cheek lament.

After intermission, the orchestra presented the winner of its Student Concerto Competition. The contest is an annual event that offers an outstanding young instrumentalist from the Indian Hill Music School a concert appearance with the Orchestra, in most cases the first such opportunity the young artist has experienced.  This year’s winner was piccolo artist Jinji Zhang, all of 15 years old, who played two movements of Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto RV443 with admirable and confident aplomb.

Hangen and his players then offered the Canon in D by Johann Pachebel, its composer’s “greatest hit,” in a decidedly “non-echt-Baroque” version that for all the romantic layering in this arrangement still pleased with its exposition of the composer’s rich gifts of invention and melody. Needless to say, the audience ate it up

The concert concluded with energy and brilliance. The familiar orchestral excerpts from Christoph Gluck’s masterful opera Orfeo ed Euridice were heard in artful and virtuosic performances of the work’s Overture, the Dance of the Blessed Spirits, with particularly beautiful playing by the orchestra’s principal flute Melissa Mielens, and a furiously exciting Dance of the Furies, highlighted by brilliant playing by the orchestras strings at Hangen’s just-right blistering tempo.

Maestro Hangen had saved the best for last, though. Recalling Mr. Truss to the stage, who had “re-ragged” in a beautiful pink shirt and tie, Addio, addio miei sospiri was sung to a fare-thee-well with cascading roulades, accurate fioritura, and a brilliant cadenza, which appropriately demonstrated Mr. Truss’s considerable vocal range from top to bottom. Predictably, and rightly, the audience was brought to its feet.

In the swirling artistic milieu that is the Greater Boston classical music scene, it is a joy to encounter an orchestra, conductor and audience of the high character and quality as that of The Indian Hill Symphony Orchestra in suburban Littleton. Kudos to the many Metro West individual and corporate supporters of this fine ensemble and its Music Director.  And, speaking of the audience – its rapt and attentive silence during the music is a tribute to its sophistication. Would that Symphony Hall audiences were as quiet and attentive!

John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 29 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 30 years.

2 Comments

  1. A wonderful, well deserved review of this remarkable orchestra!

    Comment by Carolyn Copp — January 27, 2010 at 7:15 pm

  2. Really exciting concert! What we have come to expect from Indian Hill Orchestra. The metrowest region is truly fortunate to have such fine musical offerings as well as the fine school to enhance our lives!

    Comment by Pam Resor — January 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm

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