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To What Benefit the Concord Orchestra Concert?


The Concord Orchestra’s benefit concert Sunday afternoon, September 25, raised a number of questions, nearly all them relating in one way or another to the choice of pieces on the program. I had so looked forward to visiting Concord, especially to replicate somewhat the enjoyable experience I had attending the orchestra’s benefit concert in 2009. My review, the very first to be published in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, was positive all the way through.

My disappointment over this year’s benefit concert is huge, and I feel it might be best to try and explain this through a series of questions and musings rather than by making a culprit out of a respected and long-standing organization, which it is not my intention. I am not a grump.

But first, let me compliment the warm and welcoming greeter who received my donation. The same friendliness was shown us at the pre-concert reception. Mouth-watering home-made sandwiches, asparagus rolls, fried chicken wings, Mexican cheese and vegetable dip, sushi, and an assortment of sweets lined the table, to name just some. Cooling strawberry soup would play off one of the pieces on the program of the same name. The real thing was a delightful taste-treat new to me.

Question one: Why pieces putting players at risk of not being able to be relatively ready for their performance?  Feeling at least somewhat secure with the technical aspects of performance is a first step, and when not taken, is the first “mistake” heard by the listener. Finding notes on the stage on performance day draws the listener’s discomfort on the one hand, and empathy on the other. We understand this is not a professional organization; the players are volunteering their time, skills, and talents and enjoy performing. There are, though, slips that can and will happen, but this was quite obviously not the case at Sunday’s benefit concert. Darius Milhaud’s La creation du monde never succeeded at coming to life with one exception, and that was Grant Anderson’s clarinet solo finely etched in a hybrid style of jazz and classical and delivered through an accomplished technique.

Question two:  Why Claude Bolling’s Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano Trio? Conductor Alan Yost’s own introduction gave the answer away—to me only? What he told us explained why I couldn’t find the score anywhere, when I searched earlier in the week. He couldn’t either. He reminded us that Bolling’s early flute piece mixing jazz and classical made the composer millions. This composition obviously did not. I gather that it remains unpublished, and if this be the case, the music publishing house must know something. Why not have chosen a piece that could really show the heart and soul of the Concord Orchestra? This outing by Bolling was tepid Junior-High stuff.

Question three: Why such long pieces? Milhaud’s La creation is, no doubt, a full-length piece. Astor Piazzolla’s Suite del Ángels in three movements, all quite strangely similar to each other, took up a good deal of time. The arrangement made by Yost’s high school band director Bill Morse for the most part clouded the tango and Argentinian pictures. But it was Don Ellis’s Strawberry Soup that went over the top, lasting much too long in the oppressive heat of the afternoon.

Yost is most engaging and sheer fun when addressing his audience. To wit: a few claps burst in after the first movement of Bolling’s Suite and prompted Yost to hold up three fingers and mouth the words “three movements,” all with a warm smile. Then, just as the second movement was coming to an end, came quite a roar from outside, and when it subsided Yost turned to the audience saying something to the effect of “that must have been a Harley.”

Final question: Can this be called a successful benefit concert?

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston,  was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier  Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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