IN: Reviews

A Bump in the Road for Pro Arte


There were disappointments for me on Sunday afternoon. My first was the scant showing for a concert with the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra at Sanders Theatre yesterday. A second disappointment was a conspicuously slow start for the two small ensembles drawn from the orchestra.  Perhaps Pro Arte’s musicians were also somewhat discouraged by so many vacant seats  —  the Ravel and Copland openers never got off the ground. On the other side of intermission a good-sized orchestra took a stronger hold of the music of Respighi and Márquez and also of the small-sized audience.

On the whole, as good as these latter two pieces were, music making was not up to what I have come to expect from this cooperative founded by the late Larry Hill, a former colleague of mine at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

I can still recall often driving Hill, who led our University Chorus and Chamber Singers for a good number of years, from our campus to Cambridge, and hearing him ruminate about founding the cooperative. He often asked, “What do think, will it work?” The answer is a resounding yes with one success after another under the cooperative’s belt.

Bumps in the road, though, are inevitable.  Even as the Board Chair spoke before the concert, one could detect some letdown. Imagine what it must feel like having prepped for an event as this cooperative so clearly did with involvement of both its board members and musicians alike, only to reckon with such a turnout. It has to be, well, more than discouraging.

And there certainly were no red flags raised by the programming itself, except for possibly one. Presenting the full ballet’s music for Appalachian Spring definitely was not a wise choice. I last heard the overly long version live at Tanglewood with the BSO under Leonard Slatkin. Midway, then as now, passages of great originality alternate with those that are banal, a sequence continuing on far too long, especially without the dance. The 13-member ensemble did not pull off much of this drawn-out affair either.

As for the Ravel, watching guest conductor Jonathan McPhee, who is Music Director of the Boston Ballet, was informative. First off, I would rather  —  much rather  —  have experienced an ensemble of six interact among themselves, that being quite something in and of itself.  Introduction and Allegro lacked that impressionistic naturalness we have come to expect. Instead, it was metronomic, even pointillistic with notes singled out, gestures being pretty much obscured. Detail, nuance, and even key accents were very much missing, and these are much needed in giving life, if not profile to the work’s sensuousness and sonorousness. Harpist Barbara Poeschi-Edrich found some of Ravel’s magnificent world. I wondered how she would deliver this French composer’s popular work in other settings.

What a fond memory I have of seeing the three paintings of Botticelli when we visited the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence some years ago. It was Ottorini Respighi’s orchestral manifestations of La Primvera, L’adorazione dei Magi, and La nascita de Venere from Trittico Botticelliano that hit the memory switch. Prolonged bird calls played by the strings also reminded me of Vivaldi’s birds in his own spring address. Here, the fuller orchestra came alive. Wind soloists stood out, so did the extended triangle’s absolutely welcome ring.

Who would not get excited and shout out a bravo after the noisy Mexican dance music of Mexico’s Arturo Márquez, his now famous blockbuster, Danzón No. 2. South-of-the-border realism out of the clarinet with Ian Greitzer, trumpet with Dana Russian, and percussion with both Jeffrey Fischer and Robert Schulz were rare and wonderful moments. So were the gorgeous sounds of Ronald Haroutunian, bassoon and Nancy Dimock, oboe.

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.


10 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Mr. Patterson your review is a bit of showmanship in my opinion.
    We are exposed to your very learned style and feel very little of a sensitive person attending a very fine concert.
    Also why emphasize the small audience? This wonderful organization is trying to survive and you are only contributing to its
    Problems which are not due to the very fine quality of its concerts but to what is happening im today’s economy and the changing social scene. You might have done something good had you been capable of appreciating this terrific concert. As it is I believe you have done damage. And I …. a musician ….felt it was a great concert

    Comment by diane asseo griliches — October 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm

  2. What Diane said.

    I mean, okay, it might’ve been a downbeat evening and vibe, at the start anyway, and future problems loom, if not worse, also finally the ‘founder my colleague would be bummed’ ….

    But why the heck not start with the last two paragraphs, Mr Dr Professor Fulbright former chair Boulanger student with distinction?? What a shabby lede ‘There were disappointments for me on Sunday afternoon’ is! Narcissistic to boot.

    Maybe BMint needs a primer in the rudiments of reviewing. Save pissant negativity for the truly deserving, among other principles.

    Comment by David Moran — October 18, 2012 at 11:49 pm

  3. I was quite disappointed with Dr. Patterson’s review of the Pro Arte concert last weekend that I for one as a former reviewer found to be excellent music making and his critique wanting. He is of course entitled to his views but he seemed to devote a large portion of his review to “his disappointment” with audience size and then determining tentative performing due to player’s disappointment which is rather arrogant for him to assume he knows how anyone feels.
    He also apparently needed the Copland to sing and dance more which is not what the chamber version was written to do all the time (it was very well performed by the way). What was he looking for? Donna Summer?
    Last and for me the most truly aggravating bit was his near diss and dismissal of conductor Jonathan McPhee as virtually unnecessary in the Ravel. That was just patently mean and unfair and not worthy of a responsible reviewer. It may well be Dr. Patterson never intended this tone but that is most certainly what came across for me and many friends.
    The review of the last two works were far more fair and not that they had to declare something supernal to be acceptable. But that part at least acknowledged performers and something of professional musicianship that in his review otherwise was completely absent.

    Comment by Peter Barkley — October 19, 2012 at 11:52 am

  4. I am sure that the publisher, Lee Eiseman, will find someone to help with editing. At the superannuated age of 76, I “retired” a few days ago (some seven reviews ago?) to resume a life unencumbered with deadlines and other pressures. The wonderful cadre of reviewers we have assembled and the music organizations that are in our bailiwick have been notified, and I gather there will be a short article announcing this to our general readership. In the meantime, I am buoyed so far with wonderful thank yous from some 30 reviewers and music organizations. Saluti!

    Rest assured; The Boston Musical Intelligencer will continue to supply its readers with good reviews, thorough information on upcoming concerts, AND the chance for commentary.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — October 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm

  5. I think it’s unhelpful of David Moran to criticize the reviewer as a person rather than go to the trouble of articulating his own alternative reaction and assessment of the performance. If BMI critics ever decide to be bland rather than honest, we will all be deprived of a very useful venue for learning. It’s so much more interesting when there are real views expressed — and real differences of views!

    Comment by Ashley — October 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm

  6. “If BMI critics ever decide to be bland rather than honest, we will all be deprived of a very useful venue for learning. It’s so much more interesting when there are real views expressed — and real differences of views!”
    Perfect comment, Ashley.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — October 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm

  7. In paragraph #1 David Patterson makes what looks like an attempt at mind-reading: “Perhaps Pro Arte’s musicians were also somewhat discouraged by so many vacant seats …” Perhaps? Somewhat? How did he know? If I were one of those musicians, I would find this insulting.

    And in paragraphs #2 and #3 we find him communicating with the dead. The Pro Arte’s founder Larry Hill, we are to infer, would not have approved. Oh dear.

    It’s a dubious journalistic practice to review the audience — or the lack of one. After all, dreadful performances are sometimes given before packed houses, and excellent ones in front of almost nobody.

    Comment by Richard Buell — October 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm

  8. Richard Buell: maybe the musicians are grown-ups, in which case they will be not feel insulted, but will welcome such precise and really very constructive feed-back. I can’t imagine, for example, that McPhee, who is a very sincere musician, will take umbrage at the criticism. Rather, he will welcome an opportunity to think deeply, apprpriately challenged by a fellow musician.

    Comment by Ashley — October 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm

  9. I was not there, Ashley, and cannot speak to the performance. I do know that any review which leads with one’s personal disappointment, meanders to other semi-related personal stuff, meanders further to something or other, but then ends with thoughtful, observed, serious praise and specifics and upbeat gesture for a presumed future is a lameass way to approach journalism of any sort.

    Comment by David Moran — October 19, 2012 at 9:53 pm

  10. How many times have we heard: ‘It was such a great performance; I wish more people had been there’?

    It’s true that some our best performances can be for tiny audiences (and more than once, I’ve been disappointed in myself in front of a full house). Audience size is really irrelevant to most serious professional musicians, the Pro Arte included, I would imagine. This is as it should be, since those that do show up deserve the very best that we’ve got.

    Comment by Michael Beattie — October 20, 2012 at 12:43 am

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