The musicians and production team of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra prepared a great program for Monday night’s Focus Series concert. Led by Steven Jarvi, a contender for the organization’s music director position who performed with the orchestra last November, the concert was interactive, vibrant, and engaging throughout.
The acoustics at the Plaza Live Theatre sounded better than previous times; the group clearly worked out the best dynamic levels for this particular performance.
You could say that the theme of the program was color: the music by Debussy and Ravel was influenced by the impressionist school of painting; the contemporary piece by Adam Schoenberg was influenced by the artwork of Mark Rothko, whereas the narrative Samuel Barber selection sets to music a touching poem by author James Agee. With projections of paintings and text on a screen overhead, all music was connected by visual color, and colorful orchestration.
Led by a pristine flute over harp undulations, Debussy’s Petite Suite highlighted the best of the orchestra’s woodwind players, with the composer’s careful, almost elusive string shimmerings.
The orchestra collaborated with Howard Middle School students, whose paintings were displayed on the screen and added to the experience, along with the theater’s subdued lighting. The projections for the concert were well selected: enough to connect to the music and its source material, but not too much to distract from the music itself.
Jarvi’s conducting style was elegant, at times emphatic, often employing mirrored arm gestures to keep a flowing beat with occasional stress on the phrases.
Soprano Samantha Barnes Daniel, from Central Florida, delivered a soulful “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” The UCF graduate carried the flow of the idyllic poem that takes us back a century with evocative imagery (“It has become that time of the evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently…”).
Contemporary American composer Adam Schoenberg introduced his piece “Finding Rothko,” written in 2006 after experiencing the curious expressionism of Mark Rothko’s paintings at the Museum of Modern Art.
Thoroughly engaging, diverse in its emotional impact, wild at heart, and expertly constructed, this modern piece takes its cue from the best American composers, from Copland through John Corigliano,and makes a grand statement that epitomizes the spirit of modern composition.
The noble gestures for strings that open the piece, echoed by woodwinds, gradually disintegrate into an exquisite cacophony, accentuated by percussion jabs and dissonant string slides. The piece eventually returns to its gentle opening, bringing us full circle after a wildly imaginative ride. One of the best modern pieces the OPO has programmed. A nod to Jarvi for including contemporary music in the program.
And so we arrive to the wonderful music of Maurice Ravel, whose gorgeous orchestrations took the art music form to new heights in the early 20th century. Echoing the wonderful woodwind work of the earlier Debussy, the performance was marked by warm tones from clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. The clarinet and contrabassoon dialogue of “Conversations of Beauty and the Beast” was especially entertaining, delineating the stark differences in character of each instrument and the orchestration that accompanies them.
“Soundscapes’”was a great program, enhanced by adequate screen projections, brilliant team work between Jarvi and the ensemble, a great soprano soloist, and a colorful orchestra, especially in the woodwind section.
To read a review of Steven Jarvi’s November 2014 performance with the Orlando Philharmonic, click here.
To watch a full performance of Adam Schoenberg’s “Finding Rothko,” click here.
To visit the Orlando Philharmonic’s website and learn about upcoming events, click here.