If the standing ovations that followed each segment of the Mount Vernon Orchestra's Sunday concert were any indication, the audience apparently enjoyed hearing the exciting new musical sounds as much as Conductor Ulysses S. James and the entire Mount Vernon Orchestra enjoyed performing them.
The first in a two-night series was held at the Whaley Auditorium of Bishop Ireton High School; for those who missed the performance or just want to hear it again, the concert will be repeated next Sunday at the West Potomac High School auditorium.
People who have attended the Mount Vernon Orchestra concerts for years, as well as those who were attending their first concert, had good reason to be thrilled with the performances. The members of the orchestra were clearly energized by the chance to perform challenging music, most of which was new to their repertoire, and the soloists were superb.
The only piece on the program that is heard frequently in concert halls was the final movement from Camille Saint-Saëns' second piano concerto, which 16-year-old Maria Dickson, a senior at McLean High School and winner of this year's concerto competition of the Women's Committee of the Arlington Symphony, dispatched with great aplomb. Her finger work was delicate at just the right places, and her grand attack was every bit a match for the very supportive playing of the entire orchestra in full voice.
THE MAJORITY of the material for the concert was composed by 20th century Argentineans Astor Piazzolla and Alberto Ginastera. Piazzolla came to prominence in the tango dance orchestras of the 1920s and ‘30s but grew in musical sophistication throughout a long and productive life. His "Tangazo" (Great Tango) opened the program, giving each section of the orchestra a chance to stretch its wings musically.
The piece began with the full deep rumble of the cellos and basses with the theme then taken up by sweet violas. Violins added highlights to a very peaceful introduction that might bring to mind a lovely sunrise for a busy day. That day does get busy, however, as the rest of the forces join in. Joyful flutework is echoed by horns and taken even higher by the piccolo.
Each of the principal players had a chance to impress. None did so with as much lyricism as did Jack Hufnagle, principal horn player, although Lynn Ann Zimmerman-Bell's flute was a similar standout.
THE FIRST SOLOIST of the evening was Janice Martin, the violinist who joined with this orchestra three years ago to perform the Korngold concerto. This time it was to perform a piece by Argentinean Astor Piazzolla, his "Four Seasons in Buenos Aires," which gives new and dramatic settings for some of the material in Vivaldi's famous violin concertos of “Summer,” “Fall,” “Winter” and “Spring.”
This piece for soloist and just the string forces of the orchestra is consistently fascinating, with never a dull musical moment. There are portions that sound so lyrical you can imagine them given words and performed as popular songs.
Other portions introduce unlikely sounds into the mix, as when Martin plays the first few notes of "Fall" with her bow striking the strings behind the bridge of her violin, or when the cellos pluck strings at the top of the neck and slide their fingers down toward the base.
Martin's playing was emphatic, longly lush for the lyrical moments and energetic and even violent when called for. She was matched by the solo moments provided for others in the orchestra, most notably the solo for the principal cellist, which drew the rich sonority and high sense of drama from John Gevorkian and which was then supported by the rest of the cello section.
For the other sample of the concert music of Argentina, James led the forces through Alberto Ginastera's suite of music from his ballet "Estancia," a four-movement piece consisting of two fanfares that spread throughout the orchestra in high-volumed energy, a colorful idyll that featured the exquisite solo bowing of concertmaster Irina Garkavi, and an all-out torrent of sound in a finale that built to a superb climax.
All in all, the combination of the discovery of previously unfamiliar music and the infectious enthusiasm of its performance were well worth the price of admission.
The Mount Vernon Orchestra Concert, featuring works by Piazzolla, Ginastera and Saint-Saëns with soloists Janice Martin and Maria Dickson, will be repeated Sunday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. at West Potomac High School, 6500 Quander Road. Tickets are $17-$20. More information is available online at www.mvorchestra.org or by calling 703-799-8229.