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Archive for Monday, April 23, 2007

Chamber orchestra promotes diversity among arts patrons

April 23, 2007

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Sunday's performance by the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra was titled "Spring Finale."

Perhaps it would have more appropriately been called "Introduction to Chamber Music."

With an all-Mozart lineup that included portions of two piano concertos, the program was accessible, fun and short - 90 minutes - perfect for the uninitiated.

The first half of the concert, which was at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H., consisted of the "Allegro" movements of two concertos, played by the two finalists of this year's Stephen Paul Wunsch Young Artist Competition.

Adrienne Willems, a junior at Veritas Christian School, played the movement from Mozart's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in F Major," which is a delightful interplay among winds, strings and piano. The sections pass the theme among various parts, while the piano expands on that theme with complex variations.

Similarly, the "Allegro" movement from the "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Major" played by Justine Ahle, a junior at Free State High School, features many echoed handoffs between the piano and orchestra.

Both young pianists played technically difficult pieces in a way that made them look simple. They were sensitive to dynamic contrasts while speeding through a blur of notes - a difficult accomplishment for a pianist of any age, let alone one still in high school.

The orchestra, generally, played its role well during the concertos. There were a few balance issues in Willems' piece - the melody line in the flute and oboe didn't always come through the strings early on - and the timing of the orchestra's entrance coming out of her cadenza wasn't as precise as the rest of the two concertos.

But, big picture, this young artist competition is a wonderful way to showcase local talent and promote cross-interest among arts patrons.

Even in a city with many quality arts organizations, it seems patrons of one group don't always broaden their horizons to attend events of other groups. Perhaps doing more events like this one would help promote that - for instance, Lawrence Chamber Orchestra fans might think of going to more events featuring high school musicians.

Staying with the Mozart theme, the second half of Sunday's concert featured his "Symphony No. 29 in A Major."

After three "Allegro" movements - two in concertos and one in the symphony - the symphony's "Andante" movement finally gave the orchestra a chance to show what it can do when given a little time for expression.

The violins especially were impressive in this movement. It's one thing to show precision when blazing through quick movements, but it's equally impressive to remain together and sounding as one when the tempo is slower.

The one weak part throughout the symphony was the horn section, which often was too loud and sometimes lacked precision, both in its attacks and intonation. The loud nature of the instrument, at least when considering balance with the other 11 instruments on stage, made the errors especially stand out and detract from the other musicians' efforts.

The balance seemed somewhat better for the last movement - "Allegro con Spirito" - probably because it is louder and featured the full sound of the orchestra.

Like the concertos, this movement would appeal to nearly everyone, in a way Mozart's music often does. It's fast, loud and dramatic, with a driving tempo - what's not to like?

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