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. www.notescape.net