The Music in the Mountains Festival Orchestra proved once again how talented it is, but there weren’t enough people there to enjoy it.
Both days saw the Festival Tent only about half full, and while there was much speculating as to the reason – too close to the Fourth of July holiday, no big-name headliner, people not wanting to come out in the rain – the end result was an orchestra at the top of its game with only a small crowd on hand to appreciate it.
Ticket sales are stronger for performances later in the festival season, Executive Director Angie Beach said. The chamber performance at St. Columba and the “Swing, Swing, Swing” program are almost sold out, and other performances are selling well, she said.
On Saturday, after the traditional rousing “Star-Spangled Banner” to kick things off, the “Overture to Oberon” by Carl Maria von Weber was a fitting overture to the 27th season – bright, lovely and featuring the gifted woodwind section.
I’ve often wondered how conductors can perform the solo and conduct the orchestra. On “Insula Tropical,” the hybridized version of “Insula Suite Concertante,” and “Concertino Tropical” by Ernesto Cordero, Music in the Mountains Music Director Guillermo Figueroa showed how it’s done.
You rehearse the orchestra, get them started, and then trust the concertmaster to keep them going. I had listened to the CD of the two pieces before the concert, but found the hybridized version using two movements from each to be lovely in its own right. With its Caribbean flavor, the music warmed the tent, and Figueroa clearly loves and owns the work dedicated to him.
The cadenza in the second movement, “Jájome,” named after the mountain where Cordero lives and the two men have shared many a glass of wine, was stunning and a reminder that Figueroa is a renowned violinist as well as a talented conductor.
The third movement, “Fantasía Salsera” had toes tapping and heads bouncing, not an everyday scene at a classical music concert.
The concert ended with a mainstay of the classical canon, Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68. Wonderful from beginning to end, and the audience agreed with Figueroa about the “sublime” nature of the trio during the second movement, performed in memorable fashion by Erin Hannigan on oboe, Gregory Hustis on horn and concertmaster Leslie Shank on violin.
Brahms constructed the work so that the trombone entry in the final movement would be something special, and Principal Trombonist Byron Herrington and company made sure that was the case.
Sunday’s concert, dubbed “Melodic Revival,” was a delight from beginning to end. The evening began with Ottorino Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances,” Suite No. 1, which was written after World War I had destroyed so much of Europe. Figueroa said the pieces, which use melodies from the baroque and Renaissance brought into the 20th century, were meant to revive or reestablish culture. The pieces were lush and sprightly, particularly with Linda Mack Berven on the harpsichord.
The concert also marked the introduction of cellist Desmond Hoebig to Music in the Mountains on the technically difficult Cello Concerto No. 2 in D by Haydn. The piece is a leisurely dialogue between cello and orchestra, and Hoebig, who trained at the Curtiss Institute and the Juilliard School of Music, was lost in the world of his cello and conductor cues, giving an exquisite performance.
But without a doubt, the orchestra itself was the star of the evening when the musicians brought spring into July with Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat, Opus 38. Sketched in four days and orchestrated in just three weeks, the piece was a triumphant success at its debut with Mendelssohn conducting and continues to be an audience favorite today. It also is one of Figueroa’s favorites.
“It’s the happiest, cheeriest, brightest, sunniest piece you’ve ever heard,” he told the crowd.
The piece showcased Jean Larson Garner on flute, but it takes an orchestra in perfect sync to perform this to Schumann’s expectations, and he would have been delighted by Sunday’s performance.
This is Figueroa’s sixth season as music director. Music in the Mountains Board President John Anderson announced during the weekend that his contract has been extended for three more years, through the 2016 season.