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SINFONIETTA REVIEW: Don’t miss the last Sinfonietta of the season

August 9, 2019
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - As the third of three candidates auditioning for the job of Sinfonietta music director, Peter Rubardt took his first at-bat Sunday, Aug. 4 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts with an all-American program in the first half and an all-German second half.

With the exception of Copland's "Variations on a Shaker Theme," all the pieces had a certain freshness to them because they hadn't been performed here in recent memory dating back 10 years. As for "Shaker Theme," it's the tuneful and familiar finale to "Appalachian Spring" that was performed in its entirety just last year.

David Diamond's "Rounds for Strings" started the evening with a very American sound of energetic fiddlers at a barn dance sawing away with reckless abandon but on a piece that's considerably more intricate and entertaining than "Turkey in the Straw."

"Shaker Theme," aka "Simple Gifts," followed, and then soprano Halley Gilbert came out to sing Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer 1915," a deep, dissonant and meditative piece with the lyrics taken from the preamble to James Agee's novel "A Death in the Family."

This piece had an awkward moment when Gilbert came onstage because in order to get herself into the light, she had to park herself amid the violin section, whose members all had to slide their chairs back a ways to make room for her. The front of the stage is pitch black, causing a number of soloists in the past to have to choose between standing in the darkness or on top of the orchestra members. How difficult can it be to have a techie run a spotlight whenever there's a featured soloist?

A spotlight would have been very useful at one particular moment when Maestro Rubardt introduced Gilbert's father, David Gilbert, seated in the audience. Mr. Gilbert had the conductor's position from 1985 to 1991 and is currently serving as the interim artistic director. When he stood up to be recognized, hardly anybody could see him because he was nearly in total darkness, just like any soloist who stands at the edge of the stage.

"Knoxville: Summer 1915," meanwhile, had the misfortune of bad luck with timing that nobody could have foreseen, in regard to the title of Agee's novel combined with the back-to-back mass shootings that took place over the weekend and dominated the news cycle.

All that notwithstanding, Ms. Gilbert deserves credit for her vocal performance with her strong and lovely voice that had no problem filling up the room.

The Sinfonietta hasn't played much, if any, Wagner over the past decade, possibly because of his heavy reliance on a big brass section which the Sinfonietta doesn't have, or because of Wagner's character issues. A gentleman during his time wouldn't have been too smart to loan Wagner any money nor introduce the composer to his wife because there was little guarantee he'd have gotten either one back.

If you were Jewish, you wouldn't have wanted to advertise that fact too loudly around him, either. His essay "Judaism in Music" made his anti-Semitism a matter of public record, and it made Wagner himself the darling of Hitler. His music is still banned in places like Israel.

"Siegfried Idyll," the Wagner piece on the program, had no lyrics to inflame anyone's passions. Instead it is said to have been written for his wife, Cosima, to hear from her upstairs bedroom as she arose on Christmas morning after an ensemble of musicians had been hustled through the door and set up to perform at the base of the stairs. Let's hope he paid them well.

Regardless of his character issues, Wagner's music has endured because it can be described as powerfully beautiful, with evidence of this on display at Sunday's concert, especially in the early sections of the piece that still could have benefited if it had only been a few minutes shorter. One might wonder whether Wagner was trying to impress his wife or put her back to sleep.

The evening ended with a joyous performance of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony, a work that seems so perfect for this ensemble it's a wonder it hasn't been done more often. It's said to be the shortest of Beethoven's nine symphonies, and there is hardly any evidence of the legendary "raging tyrant" anywhere in the music.

In his youth Beethoven was said to have been scoffed at for being "naive" in regard to his views on the brotherhood of man and especially his fondness for Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy," which became the basis of the final movement to his Ninth Symphony, with all its grandeur as it embraces the spirit of Romanticism with the theme "Alle Menchen warden Bruder," or "all men become brothers."

Although Beethoven began to lose his hearing at age 26, prompting him to become so moody and withdrawn that he seriously considered suicide, one could argue that he still maintained a very happy side to himself until his death at 56.

Maestro Rubardt demonstrated his mastery of the baton here as he guided the orchestra with precision through multiple changes in tempo and dynamics as if behind the wheel of a Ferrari at Watkins Glen, making it as beautiful to watch as it was to listen to. Let's hope it doesn't take another 10 years or so before this piece returns to the program.

The season ends next Sunday at the LPCA as Rubardt conducts for the second time to audition for the director's position vacated last year when Ron Spigelman stepped down after nine years. The program will feature music by Rossini, Mozart, Honegger, Schubert and, of course, Haydn's "Farewell Symphony" to close it out.

Don't ... miss ... it.



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