Indian Hill Orchestra and Jim Walker Take Diverse But Not Divergent Paths

By McLaren Harris

Diverse musical styles, rather than periods, characterized the major portion of Sunday’s (March 29) concert by the Orchestra of Indian Hill at the Littleton High School Performance Center. Works by Stravinsky, Debussy and Carl Nielsen were composed within about 30 years from the late 19th to the early 20th century. Not to slight the orchestra or conductor Bruce Hangen, but what many or most concert-goers came to hear instead was what classical-jazz flute virtuoso Jim Walker can do with his instrument.

Walker can do a lot with the flute, the audience quickly discovered. He was soloist in Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, a two-movement post-Romantic work with some adventurous harmonies and both intricate and lyrical passages. Walker accomplished the technical demands with flair and excelled with its lyricism. The Nielsen concerto is pleasant although unremarkable for innovation, but it gains in interest and appeal when featuring a soloist with the technical and artistic skill of Jim Walker.

The mood changed abruptly after the concerto with three movements  – updated – from works by J.S. Bach: the Allegro from the C major flute Sonata, BWV 1033, the Siciliana from the E major Sonata, BWV 1036 (dropped to E flat), and the dashing “Badinerie” (“Banter”) from the B minor Orchestral Suite No. 2. For these, Walker called upon drummer Joe Higgins and Jonathan Hess’ string bass to augment the orchestra for an enhanced jazz flavor. The partnership continued for the final work, a blues-oriented romp with both traditional formal and big-band elements. The combination of full orchestra with jazz combo doesn’t work for some jazz aficionados, but Sunday’s audience seemed to eat it up, standing for the performers after the rousing finish.

The program opened with Stravinsky’s suite from his ballet music to “Pulcinella,” which harks back to the Baroque era with its basis on music by Giovanni Pergolesi. I have not seen the ballet, but if it is anything like the suite, it must be fun indeed – by turns stately, bright and playful, tender, outright humorous and finally a full-hearted joie de vivre.  There were many opportunities for individual excellence, especially by trombonist Peter Cirelli, principal bass Kevin Ann Green, and concertmaster Li-Mei Liang. Bruce Hangen’s sharp eyes and baton kept order in all sections.

In second place, Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite is a familiar and engaging series of four movements – “En bateau,” a lighthearted impression of sailing, a measured but slightly winking “Cortège,” an almost classical minuet, and the final, spirited “Ballet,” reminiscent of a Parisian street scene. Originally for piano four hands and later orchestrated by Henri Büsser, it is indeed petite and très mignonne – very cute. The musicians treated it gently and elegantly.

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