Love’s Food: The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle’s “Romantic Riches”

The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle gave a splendid concert yesterday in the Fletcher Hall of Durham’s Carolina Theatre. The program, “Romantic European Riches,” was well-chosen, with the first half featuring three works with different kinds of romanticism. The second portion was given over to Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in e minor, op. 64, for which the orchestra was joined by the delightful and dazzling guest artist Paul Huang on violin.

With Lorenzo Muti on the podium and first violinist and concertmistress Claudia Warburg returned from an absence due to injury, the orchestra seemed particularly happy to be playing as they opened with a buoyant rendition of Die Fledermaus Overture, op 362, by Johann Strauss, Jr. The Overture is a fast-moving medley of tunes and motifs heard in the comic operetta from 1875–it is bright and gaudy and not a bit serious, and every little while the 8-minute work spins you smilingly around in waltz time.

The mood was varied by the interesting piece that followed, Piccola Musica Notturna (based on a a poem by Antonio Machado), by Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975). Dallapiccola was influenced by the 12-tone composers of the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, et. al.) but his Italianate rendering of that intellectual style is imagistic and sometimes melodic. The orchestra played the composition beautifully, skillfully rendering the poem’s shifting emotional tone with a rich aural palette. The violas sounded particularly fine, as did the intermittent  notes from the plangent harp.

Next came the explosively vital Carnival Overture, op. 92 by Antonin Dvorak, which is not actually an overture but a brief work complete in itself, though one of a cycle of “overtures” on nature, love and life. It is sonata-like in form, and its three sections allow us to observe  the clamorous Carnival crowd; to back off and reconsider all this joyous frenzy; and finally to plunge in with shining spirit. It’s a very exciting piece, and the orchestra played with an intoxicating combination of precision and abandon.

Paul Huang. Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

Paul Huang. Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

After intermission, guest artist Paul Huang joined the orchestra for what turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous interpretation of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in e minor, op. 64. The 22-year-old Taiwanese-American has not only technical prowess, but an eloquence of tone and phrasing that indicate a delicacy of mind. Whether he was playing the 1683 Nicolo Amati violin mentioned in the program, or the 1742 Guarneri mentioned on his website, the instrument had the most beautiful sound, and Huang’s silken bowing drew out long pure notes in the lively music. It was a great pleasure to watch the close interaction between Huang and Maestro Muti, and to witness the orchestra’s ability to support and surround the soloist.  Music like this truly is the food of love, as was borne out by the spontaneous bear hug by Huang and Muti at its conclusion.

Huang was in Durham as part of the COT’s Young Soloists program, which brings soon-to-be-stars to the Carolina. (The January program included a ravishing performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in c minor, op. 37, by Andrew Tyson.) Huang barely made it, due to the domino chain of flights canceled and rebooked because of the snow. He  had arrived in time for just one rehearsal with the orchestra and conductor, which made the performances of one and all even more remarkable. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the airline involved had refused to rebook Huang in time to perform–the COT was forced to buy a new high-priced ticket to get him here. If you appreciate this aspect of the COT’s programming, it would be a fine time to send a few extra dollars their way.

In fact, COT president David Lindquist says that individual giving is lagging this year and that “we are skating perilously close to the red this season.” If you can give to this fine community orchestra, it will help keep these fabulous concerts happening for a mere $20 a ticket. The COT needs general operating support, of course, but there are also interest specific endowments, such as the one honoring the late Robert Ward, which will support the playing of 20th and 21st music.

The COT’s next concert will take place March 22 and 23, when they collaborate with the Concert Singers of Cary on Arthur Honegger’s Le Roi David, with libretto by Rene Morax. This season will wind up May 11 with a program that will include guest artist Louis Schwizgebel-Wang playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2.

Sunday Afternoons With COT

Where have I been all these years? Only last spring did I attend my first concert by the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, in the pleasant Fletcher Hall of the Carolina Theatre of Durham–a completely enjoyable afternoon. I had to miss the first concert of the 2013-14 season in October, but fortunately made it for the one on Nov. 17. It was brief, but full of contrasts, and a true refreshment.

The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, or the COT, as it is affectionately known, is home to a varying cast of professional musicians, and amateurs–in the best sense of the word–lovers of music, with considerable talent and skill, who make their livings otherwise. The COT is led by  artistic director and conductor Lorenzo Muti, whose generous spirit infuses the ensemble (Go here for an interesting 20-year-old article on Muti’s background). Both conductor and players enjoy making a variety of music, so the programs often surprise with their juxtapositions. The COT also brings in guest artists periodically, and often they are rising stars.

“Bulls to Ballrooms” was the program title for the 17th, and the short concert began with a lovely short work, La oration del torero, by Joaquin Turina (1882-1949), during which you can easily imagine the proud bullfighter strutting, admiring himself, then admitting to fear, and praying for protection and glorious victory. During this first piece, the first violin/concert mistress Jennifer Curtis stood out for her violin’s smooth warmth and her own rather splendid bowing style.

Curtis is a Chapel Hill native, currently teaching at UNC, and a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, with a voracious appetite for music making in many forms. Her career takes her to prestigious halls around the US and the world, but currently we have many opportunities to hear her play on her 1777 Vincenzo Panormo violin. Earlier this week she posted this busy schedule on her Jennifer Curtis Violin Facebook page (Friday here refers to Nov. 22):

Friday night i’ll be performing Mozart’s concerto for violin, viola and orchestra
Symphony Concertante with Matt Chicurel
Proudly commemorating 50 years of music making in chapel hill and carrboro, recognizing teachers and performers, students, families and everyone who has helped to shape the classical music seen from a grass roots level for the last 5 decades !
3 cheers for Mary Fran Boyce !!
Friday 7pm Chapel Hill Bible Church

Thursday I am giving a public masterclass at Duke University- 5pm, Bone Hall, Biddle Music building

Also Thursday I’ll be performing with other UNC-CH faculty, students and Alumni for the world premiere of Isaiah, for Choir and orchestra by Stephen Anderson -Hill Hall auditorium, UNC

Sunday I’ll be hosting anther Bows for Beers at Steel string Brewery in Carrboro

Hope to see ya….

One charming feature of the COT programs is the brief talk on each piece given before its performance, usually by Maestro Muti. However, on the 17th, Curtis spoke about Anton Webern’s (1883-1945) Five pieces, op. 5, for string orchestra, written about 1910. Her knowledgeable disquisition offered ways in to the rather persnickety short tonal and textural explorations (Webern was a student of Arnold Schoenberg’s in Vienna). Webern, she said, was “trying to give density to every note. We play every note of the scale in the first two bars.” The pieces are so short, however, that sometimes it seemed to take longer for the orchestra to turn its pages and prepare for the next one than it took to play the previous one, which made for a jerky and uncomfortable whole.

Everyone seemed much happier, understandably, with the beautiful Tchaikovsky Serenade for string orchestra, op. 48. Muti controlled the tempi very smoothly, and again, Jennifer Curtis’ violin stood out, especially in the touchingly rendered third movement, Elegie (Larghetto elegiaco). The Finale (Tema russo) tumbled us out into the late afternoon light, grateful for a community in which music thrives in so many forms.

The next COT concert will take place January 12, 2014, and will be a rather special one. Along with its other fundraising efforts, the COT has recently established the Robert Ward Endowment for the Performance of 20th and 21st Century Music, in honor of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, who spent part of his career in North Carolina, as President of the NC School of the Arts, and later as professor of music at Duke. “Homage to a Musical Pioneer: Honoring Robert Ward” on Jan.12 will include Ward’s Symphony No. 6. Andrew Tyson will appear as guest pianist; the program also includes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Ticket information is here.

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