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Williams & Mendelssohn at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Tue Dec 5th, 2017

Zachary Schwartzman and the Bard College Community Orchestra

The Bard College Community Orchestra offered a free concert at Sosnoff Theater last Monday night under the baton of different conductors with the Bard College Community Orchestra led by Music Director Zachary Schwartzman. Michael Patterson conducted the patriotic Finlandia by Jean Sibelius. Young Patterson conducted energetically this tone poem with admirable excitement as he massaged the swelling of strings and directed the horns to good effect. There was grit in this performance.

Richard Aldous conducted The Lark Ascending (1914) with Kathryn Aldous as soloist on violin. If you have never heard this work in concert, you may have heard it in about two dozen movies. Based upon a poem by George Meredith, Williams originally composed it in 1914 for piano and violin, Williams rewrote it for violin and orchestra in 1920. Even in 1914, the lark was disappearing from the bucolic landscape of England, but WWI greatly accelerated a declining pastoral population. Drenched in nostalgia and lyricism, this remains one of Williams’ most popular pieces—it continues to be a delightful lyric excursion into the higher register of the violin. Aldous delivered that high lyricism that captivates the imagination.

Maurice Cohen conducted three of Edward Grieg’s Norwegian Dances, Op. 35. As a first year student at the Bard Conservatory, Cohn displayed uncommon confidence and graceful baton movement. The orchestra was clearly more relaxed, unified, and into the rhythm of these Norwegian folk tunes. The first and third movements were amusing, almost rollicking.

After a short intermission, Zachary Schwartzman conducted Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, nicknamed “Reformation” because it was written for the 300th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s All Saints Day objections to outdated Roman Catholic practices. Mendelssohn was ill and either did not finish the composition in time or it was not chosen for the event. It was performed in Berlin (1832) two years later with acclamation, yet Mendelssohn thought its achievement less than his subsequent symphony (No. 4, “Italian). The first movement contains the Dresden Amen that Wagner attempted to turn into his preposterous opera Parsifal. Kathryn Aldous fortified the strings on the Mendelssohn.

At the end of the first movement, I thought the horns and clarinets were weaker than desired; they came alive in the famous fourth movement in Mendelssohn’s glorious arrangement of Martin Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” I love Mendelssohn’s orchestration of that hymn and it was the reason I attended the concert. I was satisfied with the result and the audience gave a standing ovation for two bows by Schwartzman.

The Community Orchestra was augmented by several Bard Conservatory students: violinists Eliot Roske and Zonheng Zhang, Yuin Qi and Joe Burke on viola (Leon Botstein has bestowed his own antique viola upon Burke), Anita Toth on trumpet, Emily Munstedt on cello, Casey Karr and Kevin Schmidt on bass, Zac McIntyre on French horn, trombonists Billy Freeman and Marco James, and Sam Gohl on timpani. These accomplished musicians were the heart of the orchestra, yet there were a few Community performers who deserve accolades: violinist Narain Darakananda, David Bisson on tuba, percussionists Michael Patterson and Andres Rivas, Meghan Mercier on cello, and Jon Knight on contra-bassoon.

This was an eclectic and pleasant evening. I enjoyed the novelty of having several different styles of conducting.