Woodstock Chamber Orchestra shines again

January’s music headline is definitely the concert on January 14 by the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, at the Woodstock Playhouse. I have said before that I am not going to pick favorites during this audition season for Music Director, in which William Stevens is the third of four candidates to conduct the WCO, and I’ll stick to that because there are factors involved in such a choice aside from what the audience hears. However, I must also say that I have never heard the WCO sound as good as it did during this concert, under the direction of Stevens. Mozart’s “Impresario” Overture was played with startling clarity and precision, qualities which remained constant throughout the performance. Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1 is not my favorite music (not much by this composer is), but Ryan Walther played with adeptness and spirit and the orchestra backed him up with strong playing that never covered the soloist. The works by Mendelssohn, “Fingal’s Cave” and the “Italian” Symphony, require quite different interpretive qualities. The overture is vibrantly dramatic, while the symphony is outgoing and sunny. These qualities came through with equal success, including the spirited virtuoso finale of the symphony. Listening very carefully — which is, after all, what I’m paid to do — I could sometimes hear minor flaws in string tone and intonation, but they were fleeting. I would have thought that the loss of the WCO’s long time concertmaster, Betty Jean Hagen, would have diminished the quality of the group’s playing. Instead, Stevens’s direction, and probably the orchestra’s desire to honor Hagen, led to a quality of performance that even a couple of years ago I would not have thought possible. Those of us who were in the audience were lucky to be there. The audition season will conclude on March 26 at Olin Auditorium, Bard College. More info next month, and at www.wco-online.com.

January was a relatively quiet music month but things really get going this month. On Sunday, February 19, Saugerties Pro Musica offers a return appearance by the excellent pianist Yalin Chi. She’s playing a wonderful program: Schubert’s Sonata in G, D. 894; Berg’s Sonata, Op. 1; and Brahms’s Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119. See www.saugertiespromusica.org. The Orchestra Now continues a busy season at Bard College’s Sosnoff Hall as Federico Cortese conducts Barber’s famous “Adagio for Strings,” Debussy’s “La Mer,” and Franck’s Symphony on Feb. 4/5. On Feb. 25/6, James Bagwell conducts a “semi-staged” production of Bernstein’s great “Candide” with singers from the Bard Graduate Vocal Arts Program. More on this orchestra at www.theorchestranow.org/bard.

As usual Bard offers numerous concerts during February, most of them, unlike the TON events, free. Peter Serkin’s Mozart Project offers its next concert at Bard’s Bitó Conservatory Building on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 3 p.m. The Da Capo Chamber Players perform new works written for the ensemble, including music by Keith Fitch and George Tsontakis, on Saturday, Feb. 18, Olin Hall, 8 p.m. The superb pianist Benjamin Hochman, heard at Maverick Concerts, plays a solo recital at the Bitó Conservatory Building on Monday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. (Yum! Janácek!) The whole schedule is available at www.bard.edu/news/events.


Vassar’s annual Modfest takes place this weekend, all free and mostly no reservations required (except for an Audra McDonald concert). Information is at www.arts.vassar.edu.

Included in SUNY New Paltz’s busy schedule is an “Unexpected Duo,” saxophonist Lois Wozniak and bass trombonist Matthew Wozniak, with pianist Ruthanne Schempf, at Studley Theater on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 8 pm. At the same locale, baritone Elex Vann and pianist Sylvia Buccelli perform “Honoring Black History Month” on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 8 p.m. Violinist Marka Young and pianist Alex Peh, excellent musicians, play a duo recital on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m. Admission for these events is $8, $6 for old farts like me. Info on New Paltz music events is at www.newpaltz.edu/music.