The big classical music news this month is the return of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra. With the demise of numerous American orchestras over the past few years, including our own Esopus Chamber Orchestra, it was re asonable to assume that once the WCO shut down operations it was gone for good. But it’s not. At a press conference in Kingston on March 31, the WCO’s president Gregory Dinger and new interim Executive Director Dana White-Marks (she plays viola, no joke) explained the difficulties that had led to suspension of the WCO’s activities. But renewed fund-raising activities, including direct approaches to every member of the Woodstock and Ulster County Chambers of Commerce, have brought in enough donations to get the orchestra back in action, and not just for one concert. “We’ve also had lots of support from ‘average people,’” White-Marks said at a press conference on March 31.
The orchestra will be performing at its usual venue, the Woodstock Playhouse, on Sunday afternoon, April 13, at 3 p.m. Music Director Nathan Madsen decided to get things going in an impressive way, with an all-Beethoven program. He has enlisted soprano Kimberly Kahan as soloist, to perform the concert aria “Ah! perfido,” major Beethoven which is not often heard. Kahan, who was present at the press conference, contradicted the common notion that Beethoven’s writing for the voice is difficult to perform. “This aria sits beautifully for the lyric soprano voice,” she insisted. The program also includes the “Egmont” Overture, a rarely-heard set of Contradances (yes, Beethoven wrote for the dance hall too!), and the First Symphony. Madsen, who is living in Lubbock, Texas and also leads an orchestra in Utah, is hoping to return to live on the east coast before too long. Of course we hope this concert will show the WCO at its best, but just the fact that it is taking place at all is gratifying. There are tentative plans for a second concert this season. Check out www.wco-online.com.
Another fine event occurred at the Olive Free Library on March 22 with the opening of the new Piano Plus! Series. These concerts, three of them this season, were planned for Saturday afternoons to avoid conflicts with other series, a commendable solution to a pet peeve of mine. The opening concert of the series, greeted by a full house, featured four Piano Fellows from the Bard College Conservatory of Music. These pianists are training to be collaborative artists (commonly called “accompanists” but I don’t like that term). Their playing throughout was of solo caliber. Hyanghyun Lee played Chopin’s “Barcarolle” with beautiful sound and shading, and later collaborated with tenor Barrett Radziun in songs of Schubert and Yoshinao Nakada. Julia Hsu played Haydn’s Sonata No. 50, in G, in a clear, lovely, controlled manner, with plenty of sprightly energy in the finale. She then gave a powerful, colorful performance of the finale of Dutilleux’s exciting Piano Sonata which made me wish for the whole thing. Eri Nakamura took on Chopin’s “Andante spianato et Grand Polonaise Brillante,” often considered Chopin’s most difficult work. If she showed a few moments of strain, the same could be said of most well-known soloists who play this piece; she was generally quite fine, spectacular in the challenging coda. Szilvia Miko took on another major challenge, Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit.” Again there were a few moments where the difficulty of the music showed, but in general she conquered its problems. Her playing of the central “Le Gibet,” which can sound monotonous, was mesmerizing. The series continues on April 19 with a solo recital (plus!) by Balint Zlodos. Congratulations to series curator George Tsontakis on a splendid liftoff.
Unsurprising, but gratifying, is the announcement of this summer’s Maverick Concerts season, which you can see at www.maverickconcerts.org. It looks like a typically stimulating season. New this summer is an upgrade in the available food options, which will be provided at Saturday concerts by Yum-Yum. I find the 6:30 p.m. start time for most Saturday Maverick concerts very inconvenient, but having some serious food available there will make things a lot better.