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Enchantment at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Dec 3rd, 2017

Jean-Marie Zeitouni with the Bard Conservatory Orchestra

Under the energetic baton of Jean-Marie Zeitouni the Bard College Conservatory Orchestra offered a program of enchantment and travel. They began with a world premiere of twenty-two-year-old Daniel Castellanos’ Telescope. This was a tone poem in honor of his deceased father whose hobby was astronomy. He would take his children to fields and mountain tops and have them look through three different telescopes. The opening sounds the violins created were like insects in a field, the orchestra then lifting the focus to the heavens. This was an exciting beginning. The piece created suspense, mystery, and sense of bewildering journey.

Here was a new composer who could create novel sounds and orchestrate a propelling sense of drama. Focus shifted from one point in the starry heavens to another, emphasizing the enigmatic immensity of the universe, and miniscule but revelatory tools humanity puts to the task (in this case hearing). At time one felt like floating through the mysteries of the universe. While the ghost of Gustav Holst hovered in the background, the audience was hearing something new that will travel beyond Sosnoff Theatre and perhaps kick-start the birth of a new star in our own small galaxy of classical music.  

Claude Debussy’s popular postcard from Ibéria followed. Perhaps not postcard—Debussy never set foot in Spain, but he relished the music of Issac Albénez and Manuel de Falla who thoroughly approved of Debussy’s imaginative construction. Yet one feels like one is touring the landscape, nonetheless. Zeitouni expertly coaxed the taut, elegant rhythms that make this composition dance. Amy Cassiere adroitly doubled on oboe and English horn, from which she extracted a golden tone. The clarinet chorus of Eva Grunblatt, Kaolina Krajewska, Jingyu Mao, and Anya Swinchoski put the final polish on the orchestra. And these clarinets seduced the ear in the next two works on the program.

Maurice’s Ravel’s French Mother Goose works (based upon Charles Perrault’s tales) began as short piano delights for the children of a couple he was friendly with. Eventually, they were orchestrated as a ballet suite. The opening Pavanne treats of Sleeping Beauty; it is solemn, ceremonial. Tom Thumb finding his way home after the birds have eaten his trail of crumbs evokes the poignancy of a lost child finding his way home amid the chatter of birds; violinist Zhen Liu conjured a marvelous fairy tale tone. More lively was the story of the ugly girl under an evil spell, but when released she enters an enchanting world of fantastic music that Bihan Li on violin so expertly invoked with enthusiastic passion. Clarinet player Jingyu Mao captured  pathos in his “Beauty and the Beast” solo playing Beauty. The Finale of the “Fairy Garden” exults in a joyous fanfare as Sleeping Beauty opens her eyes to the world and men. It was a joy to hear Emily Melendes on the hap.

Zeitouni concluded with three short pieces from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2: “Daybreak,” “Pantomine,” and “Danse General.” Joesph Burke on viola stood out. My companion who had played in an important orchestra for two decades said: “Now they sound like a professional orchestra! Zeitouni has them tightly playing these difficult rhythms.” Yes, they had nailed these final Ravel pieces and the audience rose to their feet demanding two bows from Zeitouni and the orchestra.

Some concerts register tribulation, some grandeur, but we had traveled to beguiling unearthly realms of imaginative enchantment in the mere space of two-and-a-half hours, and now we had to return to our private knock-on-wood realities. But refreshed!