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Reckoning Artistry Streamed 


Caught up in or catching up? Pro Arte Orchestra’s wind quintet of principals marked my very first round of “streaming” concerts.  Despite having taught online since 2001 and having ventured out again and again over the Internet, for me, this encounter produced its very own flavor.

So, I had imagined. The email I was expecting at 7:55 for the 8:00 start arrived early, around 5:30, with a link to YouTube—I had mistakenly assumed Zoom, live. The message read, “As a reminder, we will not be holding our regular Zoom Q&A session this evening.” The event listed in BMInt may have had me thinking live: “Available until following Sunday. Zoom to follow.”

Artistry abounds among these Pro Arte Orchestra’s principals, each having performed with nearly all of the major organizations as well as having served on the faculties of a radius of schools in the New England region. The principals, well-known to audiences in Boston and beyond: Ann Bobo, flute, Nancy Dimock, oboe, Ian Greitzer, clarinet, Ron Haroutunian, bassoon, and Robert Marlatt, horn.

According to Bobo’s introductory remarks, the original plan had been to record outside her home, given the constraints of Covid19. But because of a gusty wind, the 52-minute recording had to be moved to the garage. It was good to see the faces and hear the voices of Bobo, Dimrock, and Haroutunian. Their introductions, though, could have been less general, less predictable. Introducing Barber’s music standing in front of his reed-making shop, Haroutunian apologized for the “mess.” That piqued my curiosity, why not a quick lesson?

Dimrock introduced the short and sprightly opener by Valerie Coleman. Having looked up her website, finding material that might have been quoted in their program, I learned that Umoja is the “Swahili word for ‘unity’ and is the first day in seven in the African- American celebration of Kwanzaa. The original composition calls for unity through the tradition of call and response and was first meant to be a simple family sing-along song for Kwanzaa. As it was added to the wind quintet repertoire of Imani Winds, a woodwind quintet that was created and founded by Coleman, and it soon became a signature piece.”

The Pro Arte principals presented timbral splendidness eschewing the dynamism of Imani’s YouTube rendering.

Irving Fine’s Partita contrasted the African call and response with American neo-classicism.  The Partita’s introduction, variations, interlude, gigue and coda found requisite verve from the players catching the Boston composer’s American friskiness, his slight touches of Bach and Stravinsky. At times, through my earphones, instruments over-shone their colors, horn notes popped out, flute notes momentarily shrilled. The medium dynamics and registers of these five instruments at other times drew sonorousness and balanced counterpoints superseding the restrictive traditional neo-classical values.

The quintet played in the shadows of the garage save the sunlit clarinetist. No airplanes heard overhead, a bicycle and car visible from various, unassuming camera shots.

 One could only imagine how vibrant this Americana would be in venues in which the artists are accustomed to performing.

Samuel Barber’s Summer Music marked “Slow and indolent” rather nodded in the direction of exertion, a laid-back summer coming with the ensuing oboe melody. And a certain “Joyous and flowing…with increasing intensity” made its way via this “distance performing.” The quintet shifted gears sometimes on the late side in this supply time-changing Barber. 

William Grant Still’s Summerland is the second of Three Visions originally composed for piano. “The second Vision is a portrait of promised beauty in the afterlife. It is called Summerland, after the peaceful Heaven of the Spiritualists.” And more from online UC Press: “After his two-year apprenticeship with Varèse, and after several of his concert works had been performed, Still came to understand that he wanted to write concert music whose African American character was clearly recognizable to white audiences…” This arrangement for quintet splayed color galore through sheer artistry from the Pro Arte principals.

Still another arrangement, this time Gershwin’s An American in Paris. To an extent it entertained and instructed. Overall it felt hit and miss, though no reflection on the five woodwind devotees. As Bobo put it, they “just threw it in for fun,” concluding, “thank you so much for supporting live music.”

Live music? Or buy the stream HERE.

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.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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