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SINFONIETTA REVIEW: Maestro Kynan Johns has strong Sinfonietta Symphony Series debut

July 12, 2019
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

They could do a lot worse than this guy. The Lake Placid Sinfonietta is auditioning three candidates for the position of music director this summer with Australian native Kynan Johns going first with the opening concert Sunday, July 7 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts featuring a Spanish program.

As conductors go, there's nothing worse than an abrasive individual with sloppy stick technique who doesn't know the musical score very well. Such was not the case with Johns's debut. He demonstrated a certain charm and total mastery of every piece, while his use of the baton left nothing to chance as every movement made it obvious what he was asking from the performers.

He likes to bounce up and down on his heels to such a degree, though, that it makes him look a little silly and therefore distracts from the music. If he winds up winning the job, the Sinfonietta board might consider fitting him with a special pair of shoes that are nailed to the podium.

As the legendary Chicago Symphony director Fritz Reiner was known to say, "The best conducting technique is that which achieves the maximum musical result with the minimum effort."

Johns could stand to put more effort into studying his notes beforehand because he communicated with his audience much more effectively when he was looking directly at them and talking TO them rather than when he was looking down and reading from the notes. He was at his most charming and witty during these moments of speaking from the heart.

The evening opened with Manuel de Falla's often heard "El Amor Brujo (Love the Magician)." Like many pieces that evoke Spanish images, this one relies heavily on a strong brass section. French horn players Adam Pandolfi and James Rester along with trumpeter Steven Franklin proved to be up to the task as they handled a high number of loud, flashy and exposed parts with hardly a single cracked note.

Soprano Maria Antunez made her presence known in a big way by merely walking onto the stage in her long dazzling red dress. Her powerfully beautiful voice had no problem reaching those in the back row.

Classical guitarist Colin Davin wrapped up the first half with an edge-of-the-seat performance of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." This three-movement emotional roller coaster ride demands much from the guitarist, but Davin, who studied at The Juilliard School under Sharon Isbin, delivered in a big way to the delight of the near capacity crowd.

If Maestro Johns learned anything from this performance, however, it involved the importance of rehearsing what may seem like the simple task of setting up a guitar amp. Like any classical guitar concerto, this piece requires a small amp and a microphone to keep the orchestra from burying the soloist.

There was an awkward wait for the amp to arrive onstage. Then as the tech crew member struggled with plugging in the cables right next to the podium, Johns began his prepared remarks about the piece only to be interrupted when the amp started squealing feedback. It took several long seconds to rectify the problem.

It's always those simple things that seem to bite you if you're not careful.

This small calamity was soon forgotten as Davin and his guitar (and amp) cast a spell over the audience with Rodrigo's first piece he ever wrote for guitar. Johns pointed out that even though this is probably the most popular guitar concerto ever written, Rodrigo himself was a pianist and violinist "who couldn't play four notes on a guitar."

The second half opened with the overture to Bizet's "Carmen" and then featured more of Antunez along with her husband, tenor Martin Nusspaumer, performing a series of pieces from the Spanish comic and romantic opera style known as "Zarzuela" that typically features a complicated romance with all its amusing pitfalls.

This very attractive young couple currently living in Miami with their daughter may have been the closest thing to the perfect choice to sing these roles as both demonstrated powerfully strong voices that were also pleasing to the ear. Antunez added a lacy black shawl to her dazzling red dress and played the coquettish temptress occasionally dancing around her real-life husband whose eyes sparkled with delight.

Onstage these two can generate enough electricity to overtake the power grid and drive your electric bills down to nothing.

At this point, it's impossible to say whether Maestro Johns is the best candidate for the job seeing how we haven't seen the other two yet, but one can safely conclude that he'd be a very good choice.



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