For its “Summer’s Eve Concert” on June 11, the Lexington Symphony, under its charismatic conductor Jonathan McPhee, chose to seat his orchestra in the middle of Lexington’s Carey Hall, with the audience sitting around it on the ground floor and in the balcony. The ebullient McPhee had a question-and-answer period before the concert and between pieces. By the end, there was no question left unanswered, and the audience was encouraged to give their feedback via the usual social media. Were they happy with the programming, the seating? Please tell us, he asked. Interactive music making doesn’t get more enthusiastic than when McPhee is in charge.
His program began with Mozart’s lovely Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299 in a beautiful performance by flutist Danielle Boudrot and harpist Barbara Poeschl-Edrich. While Mozart is reputed to have detested both instruments, he wrote magnificently for flute (the Flute Concerto, the Flute Quartets, the symphonies, the operas) throughout his life, but this was his only piece with harp. While the concerto is as pleasant as a summer breeze, it is anything but a breeze for the harpist. Poeschl-Edrich gave a brilliant performance; her gradations of dynamics and strong, musical playing were very striking. In the second movement, her chords were simply gorgeous, as was the flute playing throughout. The most notable things about this concerto came from the great Robert Levin (editor of Boston Musical Intelligencer) who wrote stunning cadenzas for Boston Symphony Orchestra flutist Doriot Anthony Dwyer and BSO harpist Ann Hobson Pilot. Professor Levin’s cadenzas in all three movements make this a far more musically compelling concerto than — pace Mozart — originally written, and was a very welcome respite from its often played inappropriately Romantic cadenzas. Levin’s are a model of musical intelligence (couldn’t help myself) and ingenuity. And they allowed Boudrot and Poeschl-Edrich to strut their musical stuff in a manner befitting Mozart. Bravo to the soloists. Bravo, Professsor Levin !
An English Suite by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1st Baronet 1848-1918), followed. A leading English Choral composer of his day, he was a great influence on Elgar and Vaughan Williams (although judging from this piece, not in their class). Movements 2, 6, and 7 from “An English Suite” included two slow movements in a row, which bordered on the pleasant but soporific, and a folksy exuberant finale, which was a real audience pleaser.
Regrettably, to this listener, only two movements (III and IV) of Dvorak’s wonderful Serenade for Winds, Op. 44 were performed. Uniquely scored for nine winds, cello, and bass, this is one of chamber music’s gems, especially in comparison to the “Divertissement” by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), which enjoyed a full six-movement hearing. The Dvorak began with an andante movement, lovely, but we’d already just heard two andante movements in the Parry. The Finale: Allegro molto was Dvorak at his sunny best.
Ibert’s Divertissement (1928), which ended the program, was six movements of bombast and fun: police whistles, bawdy music that sounds like a cartoon chase scene, lots of trumpet, lots of silliness. A wonderful Pops piece. It was based on material from incidental music for a comic play, A Italian Straw Hat. My favorite piece, however, was What Birds See” by John Berners (b. 1961), scored for eleven brass players. This is a very accessible piece, full of changing moods and tempi by a composer who is also a trombonist. It received a terrific performance by a excellent group of brass players. I suspect it will get lots of performances. Bravo to Berners, again to again to Boudrot and Poeschl-Edrich, and to conductor McPhee for a lovely summer evening.
Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.