The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, guest violinist Naha Greenholtz and guest conductor Kyle Knox excel in music by Igor Stravinsky and especially Maurice Ravel. | October 23, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below), made up of mostly amateur musicians, opened its sixth season with a challenging program on Wednesday night.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Again replacing regular conductor Steve Kurr was Kyle Knox, expanding his podium apprenticeship as he continues his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Kyle Knox 2

The opening selection was Aaron Copland’s glitzy El Salon Mexico, bursting with shifting rhythms and exploitations of Mexican musical elements. It got off to a tentative start, with some rather blurred work from the lower winds and brass. But even as the players settled into it, the suspicion remained that this piece had been under-rehearsed. If so, it was a bad decision for this fledgling ensemble.

Then came soloist Naha Greenholtz (below), familiar as concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, but who also happens to be Knox’s wife.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Her bold choice for a solo vehicle was the Violin Concerto of Igor Stravinsky. This is a curious work, cast in the four-movement structure usual for a traditional symphony.

Stravinsky had already said all he had to say about his idea of solo violin writing in his brilliant music for L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), and really had little to add to it in this concerto. You find spiky figurations in the fast movements, quasi-melodic efforts in the slow parts. This is, quite simply, not a major contribution to the violin concerto literature—a lesser effort by one of the giants of 20th-century music.

It was clear, too, that Greenhotlz (below top left, in a photo by Margaret Barker) was deeply involved in mastering the piece, playing from the score. Nevertheless, her devotion and the sensitivity she poured into it along with her stunning technique, was most impressive, and I had to admire her for taking on this work so off the beaten path.

Naha Greenholtz and Kyle Knox CR Margaret Barker 2

Knox clearly gave her loving and precise support.

Naha Greenholtz and Kyle KNox embrace at MCO 2

After the intermission, it was all the turn of Maurice Ravel (below, in 1910). His suite, Ma Mère l’Oye (“Mother Goose”) was an orchestration of much of a set of piano pieces. One of the supreme orchestrators of all time, Ravel showed just how many tricks and coloristic combinations he could pack into a relatively short space. This is supple music, and the Middleton players made a very credible account of its subtleties.

ravel

And then came the crowd-pleaser, Bolero. Ravel himself described this work as 15 minutes of sound without music. In that quip he was pointing out that the piece was a simplistic one, consisting only of a rather banal melody, repeated endlessly so that, one by one or in groupings, each instrument or combinations of them could play it as a display of a wide range of colors. For much of the piece, that meant the winds, so it was a set of calling cards for these players. They really did themselves quite proud.

Let’s face it, this is a pretty vulgar piece but it works, and the audience gobbled it up. (You can hear why — and see why — by listening to and watching a performance by Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic in a YouTube video, which has more than 3 million hits, at the bottom.)

Not only did the winds come off well in their displays there, but through the whole concert I had the impression that the string band was making good progress towards a unity and warmth of sound.

Middleton Community Orchestra strings 2015

One can only admire, cheer and urge onward.

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1 Comment »

  1. Sent from my iPhone

    Comment by ktaranto — October 23, 2015 @ 1:28 am


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