Last SSO concert of the season
SSO wears German well for season's final performance
21. Apr. 2006 – SSO wears German well for season's final performance
The Stamford Symphony closed its 2005-06 season last weekend with a program focused on German Romantic music.
Opening with the Overture to Ruy Blas by Felix Mendelssohn, the orchestra established its presence in the opening fanfare with the section brass sounding resonant balances with perfectly coordinated attacks and releases. They were able to find the same quality each time the chords returned, helping to create the peculiar kind of obsession that this overture explores - not an all-encompassing fixation but rather a haunting background concern that affects even when happier thoughts appear on the surface. These lighter moments also played well. The string section showed they could swing during dance rhythms evoking Spanish street life during the second theme group.
Violinist Karen Gomyo joined the orchestra as soloist for the Brahms Violin Concerto. Gomyo brought a fiery intensity that gave the solo part an urgency to transcend technical virtuosity. She balanced this with a vocal quality during quiet passages and the ability to float into section changes. The first movement cadenza was spell-binding. I look forward to hearing her play again.
The Schumann E-flat major symphony comprised the second half of the program. Conductor Eckart Preu described this work as a rare example of the "happy romantic." He said that one can imagine the composer, through this music, during one of the few times in his career where things seemed to come together in his life. Preu said his favorite movement was the intense and solemn processional in the fourth movement, and the finale "ends happy . . . which is good."
The full nine-piece brass section used in the Mendelssohn overture returned to kick some butt during Schumann. I cannot recall when the brass section sounded better in Stamford -- the sound was magnificent throughout the symphony, but particularly the retransition just before the recap of the first movement and the opening of the coda in the final movement. I found the tempo of the second movement a little quick -- faster than sehr mässig. The five-bar lyrical clarinet opening of the third movement was memorable, as were many of the ensembles in that movement in which bassoons and violas were blended. Overall, a powerful attention to detail rewarded close listening.
The evening closed with an unexpected treat -- the last movement of Haydn's Farewell Symphony -- to mark the end of the first season under Preu's leadership. Shortly after the work opened, the brass packed up and walked offstage to sounds of amusement from the audience. As scored by Haydn to make a gentle point to his benefactor; that musicians also needed a summer vacation -- each part finishes to allow grand exits to take place. The symphony milked this for all it was worth: String players walked to the podium to hand Preu gold-wrapped candy. He occasionally stopped conducting to shake hands or warmly embrace them. Eventually Preu was left with only two violins and a viola; and did the honorable thing -- exiting with the viola, leaving the final pair of violins onstage alone for about 30 seconds to finish the movement in near darkness. The ensemble returned for a joyous curtain call. It was a festive close to an entertaining evening.
Published March 30 2006 Copyright © 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.
SYMPHONY REVIEW by LINDA PHILLIPS Greenwich Citizen News
Police whistles, synthesizers and Chinese health balls as orchestral instruments?
Welcome to the innovative programming of the Stamford Symphony Orchestra, which presented a contemporary concert that kept patrons on the edge of their seats, often wondering “what next?” With their latest outing under vigorous new conductor Eckart Preu, the concert ran the gamut of 20th century music from B (Barber and Bernstein) to Z (Frank Zappa). Holy moley!
Nearly dancing on the podium, Preu led a concert that was musically riveting, engaged with audience and satisfyingly performed, all at once. In fact, so present in the performance was the maestro that he left the podium and performed as a singer with soloist with soloists of the Greenwich Choral Society in an a cappella vocal encore of a Yiddish lullaby.
Called “American Legends,” the concert billed itself as “serious fun,” and it was, exhibiting excellent musicianship, while taking us around more curves than a roller coaster.
Opening with a modern work, “Blue Cathedral,” by Jennifer Higdon, an other-worldly musical exploration of what might happen after death, soft bells sounded and a statement by the cello evoked a celestial universe, a cathedral with a glass roof and blue sky beyond. The instruments formed a heavenly choir, moving to a lovely theme in the violin. Ominous percussion led to a worrisome little march. Tension resolved and the work ended with a peaceful chiming.
“Lex,” the first movement in Michael Daugherty's “Metropolis Symphony” was inspired by Superman's arch villain, Lex Luthor. Here is a young composer with stellar musical credentials bringing his classical training to a new music, with all the pizzazz of comic book balloons. Preu suggested to the audience that they turn off their hearing aids, as the amplified music, including police whistles (villains are always on the run) did push hearing to its limits.
The demonic Lex was portrayed by concertmaster Erica Kiesewetter in a devilishly fast-paced violin tour-de-force. Just like Superman's never-ending quest for peace, justice and the American way, there was really no beginning and no end, to “Lex.” It began in mid-chase. Bongo drums, gypsy violin and “sneaky Pete” motifs abounded. Scored for two synthesizers, four percussionists and violin, “Lex” was an unexpected sensation.
Wendy Warner, a superb young artist, took the stage for Samuel Barber's Cello concerto, Pl. 22, one of the works written in the composer's 1940s collaboration with the great Serge Koussevitzky. The cello was taken to a whole new level of possibility in this concerto. The orchestra began Barber's agitated statement in Allegro moderato, the cello entering in a wandering angst, which moved to a flowing orchestral statement. Interesting pizzicato broken chords in the cello created a heartfelt sadness. Warner wrung emotion and amazing range from her instrument, especially in the wandering expended solo cadenza, ending with the soloist in a racing spiral.
Andante molto sostenuto, a gentle movement in slow triple meter showcased the cello's unique voice, and its intrinsic capacity for sadness.
Molto allegro e appassionato opened with a grand chord, moving to a spirited, up tempo full orchestral statement buzzing woodwinds and as ascending passage in cello with pizzicato violins underscoring. Warner was presented with flowers.
Charlie Chaplin's sweet, familiar little tune that became the theme for his film “Limelight” lent the only bit of nostalgia in the concert, played liltingly by the versatile orchestra.
Zappa, the iconoclast, wrote for small orchestra in “G-Spot Tornado,” which sounded like… a musical tornado, with snare drum, synthesizers in melodic passages, percussive bangs and double basses playing jazz style. Ingenious brass, woodwinds and a manic string quartet playing the same “tune” ended in cymbals crashing and a shirring gong. “G-Spot,” was a wow.
Leonard Bernstein's uplifting “Chichester Psalms” featured the always excellent Greenwich Choral Society, soloists and a young treble, Tucker Fisher. Opening with Psalm 108, verse 2, a dissonant chord and a ponderous statement in piccolo and low basses it became a jubilation, a vernacular conversation with a Broadway musical-style beat.
Psalm 23 opened with a harp and the young unaffected, uninflected soprano solo by Fisher, joined by orchestra and choir.
Psalm 131, an extended atonal orchestral statement resolved to a halcyon passage for male voice, a solo cello and a heavenly choral statement. It was highlighted by the voices of soprano Michelle Serrano Moeritz and baritone Edward Pleasant, ending with a soft “amen.” The conductor cited the accomplished soloists, including Holly Sorensen, mezzo-soprano and D Michael Heath, tenor.
Did this unusual programming work? It certainly did. Bravo to Preu, the composers for pushing the parameters for instrumental scoring and to the Stamford Symphony, whose next performance will be on April 22 and 23. For information, call 325-1407.
Linda Phillips, a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee for her music review column in the Greenwich Citizen and her book To the Highest Bidder, is an amateur pianist and was a member of the performing duo Amor Artis. She writes on musical topics for Newport Life Magazine and won a Best Column of the Year award in 2002 from the Connecticut Press Club.
Published in the Greenwich Citizen March 20, 2006
Concert Reviews by John Wilcox
Stamford Symphony Orchestra - Palace Theatre, Stamford, CT 3/12/06
Ahhhhhhhh! Regular seats! No shin scrapers. What a difference that can make! I was able to relax and absorb a wonderful program. The afternoon started with a piece called Blue Cathedral by Jennifer Higdon. I felt transported to a place of peace and beauty. Blue Cathedral was full of chimes and bells and slow rising notes. I want to hear this performed live every day!
Next was a fun, wacky number by Michael Daugherty called Lex. It is a musical chase involving the police & Superman's arch nemesis. Wild violin lines competing with equally wild percussion pulled the chase off splendidly!
The first set closed with Samuel Barber's lovely Cello Concerto and featured guest soloist Wendy Warner. Warner flew across the strings in a melodic frenzy - what a player! The best way to describe this piece is majestic. Lots of triumphant builds, escalating to a huge climax. Perfect time for a break!
The first half seemed to be a template for the second. Another glorious, ethereal number - this time Charlie Chaplin's wonderful theme to Limelight. Conductor Eckart Preu brought the beauty out of every chord, every note.
The second piece was G-Spot Tornado by Frank Zappa. Zappa fans know what a workout this piece is & the bass section looked like their fingers were stamping out small fires on the necks of their instruments.
The orchestra was joined by the 120 member Greenwich Choral Society for the positively huge Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein. The theatre was overflowing with glory as this piece unfurled like a grand musical tapestry. Big, big, big was the sound! After many ovations, Preu and 3 members of the chorus performed a lovely Jewish lullaby a capella - a tasty after dinner mint to a grand buffet! Stamford Symphony
celebrates American music
By Jeffrey Johnson
Symphonic programs of modern American music have traditionally been eclectic. But few are designed and presented as well as the Stamford Symphony's "American Legends" concert.
The program, described by conductor Eckart Preu from the podium as "different voices from the American musical landscape," was designed in two, almost mirrored halves.
Each opened with a programmatic and somewhat atmospheric piece, followed by high-energy chamber music and concluded with what might be called a "new classic."
The evening opened with a work less than five years old: "Blue Cathedral" by Jennifer Higdon. In assessing stereotypical reaction of audiences to new music, Preu assured us that in this work "nothing bad was going to happen." Chuckles rippled throughout the hall. He also asked for a quick demonstration of a few of the effects created in the work by a glass armonica and rattled Chinese health balls. The work itself effectively contrasted solo writing against strongly lyrical larger forces. This performance felt connected, and succeeded in weaving together atmospheric strands and musical line as the work developed. The ending dissolved in an otherworldly texture that was wonderfully resonant. The clarinet solos were balanced particularly well.
Next was "Lex." If you are unfamiliar with the music of Michael Daugherty, then fix that. He is talented, outrageous, and clever. "Lex" is the opening movement of the Metropolis Symphony, each movement of which is based on the "Superman" comic series. The music is scored for an ensemble of four mostly keyboard percussionists, timpani and two electronic keyboards. Erica Kiesewetter played the villain Lex's amplified violin part as well as I have heard it played live. It was clean, fiery and conveyed the mechanical intensity of perpetual motion with the humor and parody appropriate to textures that are articulated by stereophonic referee's whistles. I wish that the amplification was even louder -- it would have made an even stronger impact.
Wendy Warner joined the orchestra as soloist in the "Barber Cello Concerto." She has a very warm sound and a fluid ability to navigate the cello as though it were a much smaller fingerboard. She has an engaging way of snapping figurations and embellishments, a unique sonic poise, and I can see why she was drawn to this work. The second movement was incredible. Melanie Feld worked her breath-defying oboe solo into a gorgeous legato and Warner listened carefully as the cello interacted with the oboe -- easily the highpoint of the evening.
After intermission, we heard music by Charlie Chaplin for his final film, "Limelight" (1952). Michael Fink was kind enough to explain in generous terms that Chaplin "had remarkable musical instincts" and worked with "real" composers to achieve the final results. Something of the Chaplin personality is preserved in the music, and this was a creative and welcome choice for a program like this.
An example of the orchestral music of Frank Zappa was next on the program. "G-Spot Tornado" continued the mirrored structure of the program halves by using a smaller ensemble, and, following up on the pop-music influence on Daugherty, this piece articulates classical music's influence on Zappa. It was a charismatic work, but occasionally slightly out of control in this performance.
The evening concluded as the Greenwich Choral Society joined the orchestra for the "Chichester Psalms" by Leonard Bernstein. The Greenwich Choral Society delivered a highly rhythmic and energetic reading, particularly in the opening movement, dominated as it is in an irresistible 7-time.
Tucker Fisher swept us away with his Treble solo in the famous second movement. Rarely is this solo navigated with as sure a sense of strong musicality as he brought. The quiet ending brought a convincing close to the evening of music.
Published March 23 2006 Copyright © 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.
Stamford Symphony Conductor to Appear at JCC Maccabi Games
Stamford Symphony Orchestra Music Director Eckart Preu appeared as conductor at the Opening Ceremonies of the Stamford 2006 JCC Maccabi Games on Sunday, August 13 at the Arena at Harbor Yard. Maestro Preu led a 25-voice Jewish Youth Choir representing Fairfield County area synagogues in singing the national anthems of the United States, Canada, and Israel.
“Musical performance and athletic competition have something in common,” said Maestro Preu. “They inspire people to work together to create something transcendent. Growing up, I always wanted to be either a musician or a soccer star. But I wasn't good enough at soccer. It will be exciting to share the stage with so many very talented athletes!”
1,200 Jewish teens from North America, South America, Israel and Europe came together August 13-18 for a week of competition, community service and social activities in and around Stamford. The JCC Maccabi Games offer a transforming and powerful experience to Jewish teens by integrating sports with Jewish identity and values. The Stamford delegation has more than 200 athletes including teens from lower Fairfield County and northern Westchester. A delegation from Afula-Gilboa, Stamford's sister region in Israel, also competed.
“It is a thrill to open our homes and welcome athletes from all over the world to the Stamford 2006 JCC Maccabi Games,” said JCC Chief Executive Officer Gary Lipman. “We are especially delighted that Maestro Preu could represent the vibrant arts community here in Stamford.” The Stamford JCC issued an open invitation for the public to attend the Opening Ceremonies of the Maccabi Games.
Shifting gears; New symphony music director; Eckart Preu set to lead
Spokesman Review, The (Spokane), Sep 9, 2004 by Travis Rivers / Correspondent
Symphony conductors have different ways of getting to work. Leonard Bernstein was taken to New York Philharmonic rehearsals in a chauffeur-driven limo, and Erich Leinsdorf drove himself to the Boston Symphony in a red sports car. But Eckart Preu makes his way from his home in Browne's Addition to the Spokane Symphony offices on his bike - a mode of transport that reflects the fresh look the 34- year-old Preu hopes to bring to the symphony in his first season as music director.
"I hope we can do some things a little differently," says Preu (pronounced PROY). "This is a very good orchestra, and it has been in Fabio Mechetti's excellent hands for the past 10 years. But we always look for new ways to bring music to people and unfamiliar music to bring to our audiences."
Getting the symphony out of the Opera House for concerts elsewhere in the community has been a part of the orchestra's efforts for a long time. Park concerts, such as the one at Liberty Lake last weekend and in Comstock Park on Labor Day, have become traditions.
Taking the orchestra into churches and neighborhood centers, and on the road to such places as Chewelah and Wellpinit, Wash., were initiatives started by John Hancock, the symphony's departing executive director.
"We certainly are going to expand those ways of getting out to people as much as we can," says Preu, previously the associate conductor of the Richmond (Va.) Symphony. "I want to see us play in places that are cool places to go to.
"And we will be playing our first such concert at The Big Easy on Oct. 15. We are calling this concert 'Symphony on the Edge,' not only because it is not a 'normal' place to hear classical concerts, but also because we will play some music that is 'on the edge,' as well as some music that was on the edge when it was first performed."
When Preu recently spoke over coffee, the plans for the concert at The Big Easy - a downtown hall that more typically hosts the likes of Orgy and Slayer - had not been fully settled. But Preu promised a program of works by composers ranging from Vivaldi and Beethoven through Leonard Bernstein and John Adams.
Asked which of the Opera House concerts held special interest for him, Preu diplomatically replied: "The next one, always."
After a moment's pause, he began to list some of the works and soloists he was looking forward to this season.
"I'm really looking forward to introducing our audience to some ballet music," Preu said. "Of course the big Stravinsky ballets are familiar, but in addition to 'The Firebird' on our first concert, I know people will love the less familiar ballet music we've programmed early in the season: Glazunov's 'The Seasons,' Nielsen's 'Aladdin' and Roussel's 'Bacchus and Ariadne.'
"And there are other unfamiliar works we'll be doing as well," he added. "Those who like Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Scheherazade' will surely like his 'Sadko,' which we're doing in January. And it's time people here get to hear some composers from the time of Strauss and Debussy such as Janacek and Zemlinsky."
Preu's programming doesn't neglect symphonic favorites, though. Debussy's "La Mer" will be heard in October. Tchaikovsky's popular Piano Concerto No. 1 and Brahms' First Symphony are scheduled for January. And familiar favorites by Mozart, Liszt, Wagner and Grieg are scattered throughout the season.
In addition to classics concerts, the season will include the SuperPops series with featured acts such as the Dukes of Dixieland and Doc Severinsen, and The Met series with three homecoming concerts showcasing pianist Stephen Drury, violist Lois Landsverk and violinist Jason Moody, musicians who began their careers in Spokane.
Preu, a native of Germany, is one of the few conductors whose earliest training was as a chorister rather than an instrumentalist.
He will feature the Symphony Chorale in Mendelssohn's "Lobgesang (Song of Praise)" in November, and in the season's closing concert in May with two settings of the Gloria by Poulenc and Vivaldi.
"There is so much wonderful music for chorus and orchestra other than the big Requiems by Brahms and Verdi, wonderful works by Bach and Hadyn and Mozart, for example," Preu says. "But a lot of it is not well suited to the big spaces of the Opera House. And if you use a chorus of any size in The Met, you don't have room for an orchestra - all the more reason that we have to get busy and get into the Fox."
In addition to the renovation and expansion of the historic, mid- sized Fox Theater as the symphony's performing home (an ongoing project that's still seeking funding), Preu's agenda for Spokane includes the reintroduction of family concerts.
"These are vital for the educational mission of our orchestra, not just for kids but for their parents, too," he says. "The 'Symfunnies' concerts just didn't do what we needed to do. So I am hoping we can work out a type of concert that will connect us better with the excellent teachers in the public schools, a kind of program that will show how music connects with other subjects.
Found on the internet: ProgSheet Concert Review Archive: 2000 - 2005
Stamford Symphony Orchestra - Palace Theatre, Stamford, CT 11/13/05
What's that? Bach and Sibelius less than a half hour from my house? I'd be a fool to miss such a thing! Conductor Eckart Preu brings humor and vigor to the Stamford Symphony Orchestra. Preu succeeds in taking the music to you, giving it meaning. His heartfelt and at times humorous introductions to the pieces performed added a vitality to the proceedings I never expected.
The afternoon started with Bach's Sinfonia In D Major, a Bach piece I was not familiar with, but full of interesting color and movement as well as fine harpsichord work by Preu. That was followed by a fascinating composition - the multi textural Battalia by Biber. Battalia was a challenging number even by today's standards. A very satisfying listen. Next up was the Connecticut premiere of Joan Tower's Made In America, a new piece based on the main melody of America The Beautiful. Tower's work was darker than anticipated, and almost a bit jazzy in sections.
The Israeli piano duo, Sivan Silver & Gil Garburg, wowed the audience with their inspiring playing on Poulenc's Concerto For Two Pianos In D Minor. 20 fingers of sheer fluidity and ridiculous prowess flowed effortlessly through Poulenc's gorgeous melodies, elevating the piece to heavenly heights.
After a brief intermission, Eckart Preu lead the 52 piece ensemble through Opus 52 of Sibelius' Symphony No. 3 In C Major. Soaring, elegant, with a sad, beautiful 2nd section, this was a strong choice to end the day's performance. But wait! Maestro Preu had a surprise up his sleeve! In honor of the recently deceased (and former Stamford Symphony Orchestra conductor) Skitch Henderson, the orchestra performed a Henderson favorite: a slice of Elgar's Enigma Variations. If there was a better way to conclude the day, I'm not aware of it!