IN: Reviews

For the Love of It

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What first caught my attention was the programming of a piece I had never before heard live. As it turned out, my exploring musicmaking fit nicely with the Sunday three-o’clock concert time, then there was the close proximity of Grace Episcopal Church in Newton Corner, and, surprise-surprise, plentiful free on-street parking an unhurried walk away. This visit, my first to hear the New Philharmonia Orchestra—it has been around for 29 years—now has me wondering why it took me so long. The prevailing ambience, relaxed yet expectant, only furthered the feel of “a community,” as the Philharmonia envisions itself.

Teni Patterson photo

The NPO has set down clear, distinct markers. This full-sized symphony orchestra comprises musicians who, for the most part, lead other lives ranging from business to education and beyond. Their playing for the love of it was made demonstrably clear in their rendering of Beethoven’s Eroica and other symphonic pieces. Naturally, NPO invited its guest artist from the community, Philp Lima who is on the faculty of Berklee College of Music. Principal Conductor Venezuelan Jorge Soto has his Master of Music in conducting from New England Conservatory of Music. Acoustics at Grace Episcopal were fine enough.  

NPO is honoring Black History Month in two installments of “Equality and Triumph.” Interesting that “equality” appears rather than “equity” preferred today. Still, through these humanitarians, a strong turnout for the second round of Price, Hoiby, Copland, and Beethoven, turned their full attention to the orchestra and listened. Connecting still further with community, Florence Price, a native of Little Rock, studied at New England Conservatory, her ever-popular Andante Moderato from String Quartet No. 1 showing southern flair with northern reserve. A full contingent of rich strings filled Grace Church, harmonizing with its interior. The open warmth from the Black composer’s score was felt, community strings and conductor Jorge Soto breathing life into its echoes of a tender, spiritual time.

The inspiring words of civil rights martyr, Martin Luther King, Jr., sounded out in a musical setting by the late American composer, Lee Hoiby, sung by Philip Lima. For this listener, recalling the musicality of King’s voice, the unforgettable delivery of his speech became obstacles difficult to overcome while hearing Hoiby’s setting live for the first time. Despite this, the outpouring of energy from NPO and Lima diminished those echoes of King enough as to allow in some of Hoiby’s musical recasting of I Have a Dream. All in all, with little variance of effect from Lima, more of a narration emerged, the unmistakable melodiousness of King’s inimitable voice only hinted at. NPO played its part in attuning as much to the ethos of the music as it could.  

Fun broke out with the energetic Lima singing and staging the first set of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, the community of listeners loving it. Huge vocal cries from Lima announced “The Boatman’s Dance,” the refreshing refrains and especially the word “delight” touched in the familiar “Simple Gifts.” Tantalizing glimpses of woodwinds and brass would also delight over the set of five songs. Focusing on his singing, Lima could give more attention to words, and “I Bought Me a Cat” could have been even more fun if words were as important as the silly sounds—he did make these just right—of this children’s nonsense song.  

Long-time annotator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra Steven Ledbetter wrote the program notes. Beethoven “conceived the idea of dedicating this third symphony to Napoleon…then learned that he had declared himself emperor…The only surviving manuscript (a copy) has a title page in Beethoven’s hand with the name ‘Bonaparte’ scratched out so violently that there are holes in the paper.” A triumphant, heroic Beethoven from an informed and well-prepared Soto/NPO opened the Eroica. The ensuing funeral march, the joyous Scherzo, and detouring Finale came fairly close to meeting the New Philharmonia Orchestra’s mission which, in part, reads “to provide opportunity for outstanding community orchestral players to share in a vibrant orchestral experience with high performance standards.”

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair 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).  www.notescape.net

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