A fine Maverick finale

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Maverick Concerts concluded its 2018 summer season with two full weekends of music. On Saturday, August 25, the annual Maverick Chamber Orchestra Concert presented a celebration of Leonard Bernstein on the exact 100th anniversary of his birth. Music Director Alexander Platt, who has prepared chamber versions of large orchestral works in the past, had arranged Bernstein’s “Songfest” for a 2011 concert which was canceled by Hurricane Irene. It was successfully performed in 2013 at the Ravinia Festival, and now finally came to Maverick. “Songfest” is an ambitious affair, occupying a complete concert program, involving six solo singers and a full orchestra. Unfortunately I can’t comment much on the individual singers because the otherwise extensive program, which included the poems Bernstein had set, did not specify which singers were performing which songs, a particular problem with the two mezzos. However, since all the singers were excellent, I can just name them: Nancy Allen Lundy (soprano), Anna Tonna and Sarah Heltzel (mezzos), Barry Banks (tenor), Michael Gamble (baritone), and Robert Osborne (bass-baritone, also co-arranger with Platt). They worked well in ensembles and singly. 

Bernstein selected a dazzling array of American poems for his work, which was intended as a bicentennial celebration but was finished late. Each poem was set in its own style, ranging from the jazzy “The Pennycandystore Beyond the El” (Ferlinghetti) to the harmonically adventurous “To What You Said” (Whitman). Platt’s singers came mostly from the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, the instrumentalists mostly from the Caroga Arts Ensemble in the Adirondacks plus a couple of more local percussion players. With eight wind and brass players and five strings, balance was obviously going to be a problem, and I couldn’t always hear the strings. Also, Lundy was pretty much drowned out in “A Julia de Burgos.” There were many more pluses than minuses, though, including Platt’s typically crisp and knowing direction and the excellent playing of the ensemble. Above all, I welcomed the rare opportunity to hear a neglected major work by Bernstein, whose music is coming to be more appreciated in the years since his death. He wrote a lot more worthwhile music than just “West Side Story.”

The well-known Borromeo String Quartet brought its near-orchestral richness of sound to the concert of Sunday, August 26. Since Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in G Minor, K. 546, is sometimes played by a string orchestra, I didn’t mind the big sound at all, since the playing was precise and accurate. Rorem’s String Quartet No. 3, from 1984, continued to convince me that if I want to enjoy Rorem’s music I should stick to the more recent works. This one, mostly atonal and modernist in style, is full of invention and expression, and held my interest up to the wild concluding “Dervish” movement. Again the playing was excellent. I’m afraid I can live without Nicholas Kitchen’s string quartet arrangements of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” from which we heard two samples. Bach’s music usually arranges well, but these are keyboard pieces and I didn’t think they worked convincingly for strings. That big sound worked again to the advantage of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2, in A Minor, Op. 13, with its gorgeous tone and good balances. Despite the Bach, a successful afternoon.

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Saturday night, September 1, a full house greeted the Nilson Matta Brazilian Voyage Quartet. Platt proposed to the audience that he would like a strong Friends of Jazz at the Maverick and perhaps even a Friends of Jazz annual benefit concert. Matta, a bass virtuoso, has assembled a group of very fluent and inventive players: Dario Eskenasi, piano; Jorge Continentino, sax and flute; and Marcello Pelliterri, drums. They gave us an evening of thoroughly entertaining music. For the final number, Continentino switched to a Brazilian wooden flute, a pifaro, and the nature of the quartet’s music changed. I wish he had played it all evening, because this was more adventurous and involving music, and it sent me buzzing out of the hall.

The series finale almost seemed as if it had been designed for me personally. I frequently claim that the two most under-appreciated composers in classical music are Haydn and Dvorák. Both of them seem to be well-known but most of their greatest works are seldom performed. Trio Solisti, long Maverick favorites, gave us samples of both composers on September 2, and in neither case the composer’s best-known trio. Haydn’s No. 27, in C, is somewhat familiar but at least it’s not the “Gypsy Rondo,” the only Haydn trio in his top pops. The performance was sparkling and energetic, although I thought there was too much emphasis on the piano; fortunately, Favio Bidini’s sound was excellent. Dvorák’s Trio No. 1, in B flat, Op. 21, is a masterpiece, full of life and vigor. It’s long but never too long for my taste. Here the balances were excellent, and the ensemble’s style was just right for the music, free, flexible, and romantic, and just plain gorgeous. I don’t usually like the music of Ernest Chausson very much, not even his popular “Poème” for violin and orchestra, so I could happily do without his Trio in G Minor, Op. 3 and its slithery chromatics. But Trio Solisti played it as if they believed in it and you can’t ask for more than that. Both concerts of the final weekend filled the hall and the outdoor section, an excellent sign.

As always I’m sorry the Maverick season has ended and I’ll feel somewhat bereft until it returns next summer — although there is plenty else to hear. But at least I had an excellent time at the concerts this summer — I heard most of them, all but one of the classical programs — and it’s a pleasure to hear Music Director Alexander Platt maintaining the historically high standards of this series and continuing to bring us new ideas, like the “Americans in Paris” series this summer. 

A surprise program showed up at the Woodstock-Byrdcliffe Guild’s Kleinert/James Center for the Arts on Friday, August 24. Soprano Lily Arbisser, known for appearances at the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice and with Ars Choralis, gave an interestingly varied vocal recital with pianist Leo Treitler, before a large audience. Arbisser opened with Schumann’s “Liederkreis” (“song cycle”), Op. 39, which she sang with great expression and sensitivity although not much intimacy. Treitler was a bit too loud sometimes but otherwise gave Arbisser good support. Balance was better on the second half of the program, in which Arbisser showed her versatile sound in works of Weill, Rachmaninov, and Piazzolla. Treitler obviously knew his way around the music but his playing got pretty messy sometimes. At least he got the Piazzolla rhythms right. I enjoyed this concert for its variety and good musical comprehension. The inclusion of song texts was a definite plus.

It’s a little too early to report on the new seasons of the Woodstock Symphony Orchestra, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, and the new Alarm May Sound series in Olive. Watch for those next month. The day this paper comes out, Woodstocker Gregory Dinger is playing a varied guitar recital in the Music on Market series at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 40 Market St., Ellenville, at 7:30 p.m. His program includes two-movement works by Barrios, Sor, Scarlatti, and others. Information at 845-377-3727 or at gregdingerguitar.com. 

One of my favorite local groups, the Ponè Ensemble, presents another of its stimulating programs of recent classical music at the Arts Society of Kingston, 97 Broadway, Kingston, on Friday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m. It includes music by Gordon Jacob, Lori Laitman, Daniel Dorff, David Mecionis, Marcos Lucas, and George Antheil (the “Bad Boy of Music,” to quote the title of his autobiography). If you miss the concert you can catch the same program in November in New Paltz. Check www.poneensemble.org for more details. Another favorite series, Saugerties Pro Musica, returns on Sunday, September 16, at 3 p.m. with a cello and piano recital (including one solo by each) at the usual venue, the Saugerties United Methodist Church, Washington Ave. at Post St., Saugerties. The program includes works by Barber, Gershwin (piano solo), Bach (cello solo), Brahms, and Schumann, a substantial and appealing lineup. Info at www.saugertiespromusica.org. 

At Bard College, the excellent faculty violist Marka Gustavsson, formerly of the lamented Colorado Quartet, plays works of Kurtag, Bruch, Schumann, and Mozart with pianist Frank Corliss and clarinetist Mark Gallagher, 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Bitó Conservatory Building. No tickets, free admission, just show up. On Sunday, Sept. 16, also at Bard, a variety of faculty performers pays tribute to composer Joan Tower’s 80th birthday with an all-Tower program at the Sosnoff Theater, 3 p.m. Tickets (which benefit the Tower Scholarship Fund) and information are at http://fishercenter.bard.edu. This column now goes monthly until next summer, so if you have classical music events to publicize, get in touch with me (through the paper) early!

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