The Spring concert of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic at NOVA's Schlesinger Concert Hall on Sunday, April 3, had stars of every age.
The youngest stars of the concert were four children aged 4 or 5 kneeling before their xylophone-like instruments as featured soloists for the world premiere of a piece by the orchestra's composer in residence, James Kazik. It was created specially for the music program at Alexandria's Hopkins House which specializes in programs to help children from low-income, working families achieve their full intellectual potential.
The piece, "Apple Tree Fantasy for Orchestra," featured the full orchestra and four children on "Orff Instruments." These instruments, named for "Carmina Burana" composer Carl Orff, use wooden and metal bars tuned to specific notes on frames that hold just the bars needed for a particular piece. Thus, there are no "wrong notes" available to be hit.
Colby and Corey Mason, Taylor Jones and Daquan Mabry took the stage with all the self-assurance of their older colleagues, but with smiles undimmed by any sense that they were about to participate in "high culture." They knelt on cushions and took mallets in hand, awaiting their cue from an adult in the front row.
Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic music director Ulysses S. James glanced over his shoulder from the conductor's podium and then launched the orchestra into a full-throated introduction reminiscent of Aaron Copland's Americana-influenced orchestral works. Soon short, lilting phrases began to emerge in solos by concertmaster Irina Garkavi, bassoonist Alyssa Emery and others setting the frame for the childrens' solos. When it was their turn, they struck their instruments with confidence and a definite youthful
THE WINNER OF THE ORCHESTRA'S Concerto Competition, high school senior Brendan Shea who has studied the violin since age three with renowned teachers in his native Belgium as well as Beijing, Taipei, Osaka and Yokohama, had to follow that audience-pleasing performance. He came up with a thoroughly adult rendition of the first movement of Jean Sibelius' violin concerto.
Shea's playing was marked by graceful emergences from the backing of the full orchestra and some impressive finger and bow work. Most importantly, however, he certainly captured the emotion of the movement. The orchestra was highly supportive throughout with wonderfully ominous rumbling in the strings, clear bassoon playing and great power setting up the final lyrical segment. Indeed, Shea had to struggle a bit to stay sonically in front of the orchestra at the beginning of that segment.
With all that preceding him, you might think that Roman Lebedev's appearance to perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 would be something of a letdown, but nothing could be further from the truth. A good number of the people in the audience remembered the night last May when he last attempted the piece. Half way through the first movement that night, Lebedev collapsed, suffering a heart attack. His return to the stage was greeted with warm and supportive applause from an audience anxious for his success.
The music Lebedev made this night may have been special because of circumstances rather than technique, but a certain joy in music making pervaded both his performance and the work of the entire orchestra. The themes seemed to flow more melodiously, the rhythms seemed a bit jauntier, the dramatic bombast of the peaks seemed stronger and the syncopations seemed somehow snappier as Lebedev's delight in being back making music pervaded his performance.
THE ORCHESTRA PLAYED beautifully throughout. The thunder the orchestra created in partnership with Lebedev was a demonstration of power that took great advantage of the precise, clean acoustics of the new Schlesinger Concert Hall.
After intermission, that hall resounded to the combined forces of the orchestra and the NOVA Community Chorus under the direction of Dr. Mark Whitmire in a spirited performance of Mozart's Coronation Mass. The rich, deep sound of the strings and the strong, precise brass section provided support for the choir.
Mozart's Coronation Mass is among the most joyous of masses and the chorus gave it an upbeat fee. Four of its five movements call for soloists in multiple combinations. Whitmire spread the opportunities around, utilizing eight different vocalists in front of the eighty-some members of the chorus. Together, they made a satisfying assembly to top off a varied program.