William Stevens’s musical ambitions and accomplishments go well beyond being a band teacher for the Arlington Central School District. Stevens is principal clarinet with two area orchestras, the Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra and the Greater Newburgh Symphony. His conducting experience includes being principal conductor for the Hudson Valley Saxophone Ensemble (I’d like to hear that group!) and for numerous productions of musicals with the Admiral Players. On January 14, Stevens will demonstrate his qualifications for conducting a small symphony orchestra as the latest candidate for music directorship of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra. Stevens is the third of four candidates for the job abruptly vacated by Nathan Madsen. So far we’ve heard Gwen Gould and Jonathan Handman; after Stevens, in March, the final candidate will be Marissa Kaczynski. The winner will be announced at her or his first concert as Music Director in May.
Stevens has selected a fairly mainstream program for his tryout, but with some interesting aspects. Mozart is always an interesting challenge for an orchestra and conductor. Stevens will lead the overture to Mozart’s “Der Schauspieldirektor” (“the impresario”), K 486, a short and delightful comic opera. To demonstrate his ability to coordinate with a soloist, he chose Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1, a piece written for the composer’s father, who was a great horn player — and who did not always approve of his son’s music. Stevens’s soloist is Ryan Walther, principal horn of the Greater Newburgh Symphony. The remainder of the program is made up of two works of Mendelssohn, the “Hebrides” Overture and Symphony No. 4, “Italian.” They show contrasting facets of this composer, the overture darkly dramatic and the symphony lighthearted and fleet. The performance takes place Sunday afternoon, January 14 at 3 p.m. at the Woodstock Playhouse. Tickets are usually available at the door but you can double-check and get more information at www.wco-online.com.
My main concert-going experience of December was Ars Choralis’s “Peace in the Midst of War,” commemorating the Christmas truce of World War I when soldiers on both sides spontaneously decided to stop fighting and embrace their enemies at Christmas. (Superior officers on both sides made sure that didn’t happen again in the remaining years of the war.) As usual with the ambitious complex programs Barbara Pickhardt puts together for her ensemble, there was a pretty fair amount of worthwhile music (including Vaughan Williams), all of the “Three B’s” (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms), Lauridsen, and a typically lovely piece by Pickhardt herself. There were also a few pieces of musical trivia but I can live with that, especially in performances as fine as Ars Choralis’s (and I don’t want to forget the small expert instrumental ensemble). The only real problem I had with this concert, which I heard December 4 at Overlook Methodist Church, was the amount of narration. Yes, it was a unique, memorable, and moving event and deserves commemoration, and the spoken passages were generally well-chosen. But I felt they went on far too long. About half as much would have sufficed. Still, musically speaking, it was a fine event. Ars Choralis will be back with us in March; check www.arschoralis.org.
Saugerties Pro Musica returns to the Saugerties United Methodist Church, corner of Washington Ave. & Post St. in Saugerties, on Sunday, January 22, at 3 p.m., with another light but amusing program by the Strawberry Hill Fiddlers. More weighty fare awaits on February 19 with a recital by the excellent pianist Yalin Chi. See www.saugertiespromusica.org for more details.
The Met Live in HD series returns to the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie on Saturday, January 7 as Placido Domingo takes on another baritone role in Verdi’s “Nabucco” (1 p.m., my pre-broadcast talk at 12:30 p.m.). Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” same times, will be at UPAC in Kingston on January 21. And it’s already time to start planning for Saariaho’s gorgeous “L’Amour de Loin,” one contemporary opera you are almost certain to love, at the Bardavon on Feb. 11. (This is a delayed broadcast; most of the world saw it last month.) Details on these and all Bardavon/UPAC events are at www.bardavon.org.
These are quiet days at the colleges, with nothing but sports events on the calendars of SUNY New Paltz and Bard. So catch up on your reading, and get ready for the forthcoming deluges in February.