By McLaren Harris
In the late classical and early romantic eras, three composers – Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn – stood out for two things: their early-flowering musical genius, and their unfortunately short lives. After leaving large catalogues of brilliantly composed works in several genres, all three died in their 30’s.
On Saturday night (November 14) at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center, the Orchestra of Indian Hill, under the direction of conductor Bruce Hangen, presented three works by Felix Mendelssohn – the Violin Concerto with soloist Juliette Kang, a “Trumpet” Overture and the “Scottish” Symphony No. 3 — with the classic-romantic themes, harmonies and dramatic forms that have endeared him to audiences for the better part of 200 years.
The E minor Violin Concerto is a favorite of violinists and audiences alike, full of musical felicity, albeit with less dramatic weight than other concertos by Beethoven, Brahms or Tchaikovsky. It has long been hailed as a perfect vehicle, technically and musically, for its solo instrument.
Soloist Juliette Kang is first assistant concertmaster for the Philadelphia Orchestra, having come from the Boston Symphony a decade ago. She has soloed with many of the world’s major orchestras under as many well known conductors in as many famous concert halls – a true musical celebrity and, may we say, violin virtuoso. Her performance was as close to perfect as one could hope, with exquisite phrasing, flawless intonation in all contexts and a secure, beautiful tone from the first note to the last. She was rewarded with cheers and a standing ovation that could have stretched through the following intermission.
The opening work was a concert overture, curiously dubbed the “Trumpet Overture” by Mendelssohn’s family apparently because, yes, it has trumpets. No program, no solo parts, just a lively and cheerful piece which showed that, at age 16, Mendelssohn had already achieved compositional maturity and mastery. A year later he composed another overture that, 18 years afterward, he incorporated flawlessly into his Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a feat of true genius. The “Trumpet Overture”, misnomer or not, was given a fine reading by the orchestra.
Conductor Hangen and the orchestra did equally well with the A minor “Scottish” Symphony No. 3, which echos some Scottish musical idioms especially in the second movement’s principal theme and in the first movement’s rise-and-fall evoking the wind off the Hebrides. Principals Steve Jackson, clarinet, Melissa Mielens, flute, and Nancy Dimock, oboe, sparkled in the tuneful second movement, the strings proved dynamic throughout, and the brass gave triumphal force to the final bars.
Acclaimed regional flute ensemble becomes New England Flute Orchestra of Indian Hill Music; will perform holiday concert in December.
Indian Hill Music is excited to announce that the Nashua, New Hampshire-based New England Flute Orchestra has joined us as our newest performing ensemble, under the name The New England Flute Orchestra of Indian Hill Music.
The orchestra will perform in concert at Indian Hill Music, 36 King Street, Littleton on Sunday, December 13, at 3 pm, playing a program of seasonal classics (Vaughan Williams’s Greensleeves and Bizet’s Farandole), holiday favorites, and new music for flutes. Tickets are $10. Purchase online or call (978) 486-9524 x116.
Now in its 32nd year, the 20-member orchestra – formerly the Nashua Flute Choir – is a professional level ensemble made of up of music educators, church musicians, and flutists with formal training and a life-long commitment to music. Dr. Eileen Yarrison, a flute instructor at Gordon College and Indian Hill Music School, will continue to direct the ensemble at Indian Hill.
Founded as a four-person ensemble in 1983, this voluntary, non-profit organization was devoted to the cultural and musical enrichment of Nashua, and surrounding communities in New Hampshire and Massachusetts for more than thirty years. The ensemble has premiered five commissioned works, has recorded three CDs, and was featured on television’s New Hampshire Chronicle. They have performed at several National Flute Association Conventions and in Boston’s Symphony Hall. In 2014 The Nashua Flute Choir changed its name to the New England Flute Orchestra, reflecting the growth of the ensemble, the geographic range of its performing venues, and plans for the future.
“I started my positions with the flute orchestra and Indian Hill Music in the same week in fall, 1997,” said Yarrison. “Being deeply involved with two high-quality organizations, it made sense to bring them together. We have played several times in Indian Hill’s Camilla Blackman Hall for concerts over the years, and this beautiful performing space is very special to us.”
When Michael Havay, Indian Hill Music Director of Education, approached me with the idea to integrate the New England Flute Orchestra into Indian Hill Music’s programming, I knew it was a great opportunity for both organizations,” said Yarrison.
Havay agrees. “I had been familiar with The Nashua Flute Choir for many years through my association with Eileen. I attended numerous performances and knew that it was a high quality ensemble,” he said.
Havay invited the orchestra to present a concert at the Indian Hill Music Flute Festival in March 2015, and that performance inspired the idea of making the orchestra one of Indian Hill Music’s premier performance ensembles.
“It seemed such a natural partnership,” said Havay. “We could use our combined expertise and resources to attract additional skilled flutists and expand their concert audiences. Having a flute ensemble program is a wonderful addition to IHM’s programming. We are already working on plans to add new groups, from training ensembles to an artist-level chamber ensemble.”
In addition to conducting the flute orchestra, Dr. Yarrison will also lead an Intergenerational Community Flute Choir at the music school for intermediate to advanced flute students of all ages. Registration is now open. For information on auditions and registration for either flute ensemble call Indian Hill Music School at (978) 486-9524.
Violinist Juliette Kang of the Philadelphia Orchestra will join Maestro Bruce Hangen and the Orchestra of Indian Hill on November 14 to play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Learn why she loves the Concerto, why she misses Boston and loves Philadelphia, the composers she most loves to play, and more.
I absolutely miss Boston. I lived in Brookline, and spent time regularly in Cambridge as well, and those communities as well as Boston proper have such distinctive character and spirit. I would have loved to raise my family there. The Boston Symphony’s elegant sound and expertise is something nobody would forget, and I learned so much from my experiences there. The Symphony Hall audience is so knowledgeable, that comes through even in the quietly rapt attention they give!
That being said, I spent some of my childhood in Philadelphia, and have reclaimed my heritage as a proud Philadelphian. The Fabulous Philadelphians are more than a great orchestra, we are a family and amazingly supportive of each other through thick and thin. Our audiences are passionate and appreciative and love a big heart-on-sleeves performance!
Who are your top three composers? Why?
My top three are Mozart, Ravel, and Prokofiev. Mozart is, for me, proof that a higher power exists, one that can grant genius of simplicity, beauty, humanity. Ravel’s music never fails to move my heart, and stirs up my imagination of seeing the world as an exotic and interesting, yet deeply personal place. Prokofiev also reminds me of wondrous adventures and soaring happiness, with those harmonic resolutions that are twisty and clever and so satisfying. Each one of them wrote incredible music that speaks directly to children as well, and as a parent I couldn’t thank them enough for sharing those gifts. Peter and the Wolf rocks!
What is the most challenging piece you perform?
I find much of what Brahms wrote to be so thrilling to play, but difficult to imagine from the listener’s point of view. I have such respect for his music that it can be intimidating in a way, like trying to hug a well respected professor. Also, in today’s society where attention spans may be getting shorter every day, I am conscious of a desire to counter that, and show the inherent value of an expansive thought, movement, or work. Brahms’ music is full of love but can end up sounding long winded, and so I am always fighting the battle of indulging every single point of beauty vs. showing the architectural form. I am proud to be part of a wonderful chamber group, the Clarosa Piano Quartet, and we have been immersing ourselves in Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A major. It is an inspiring challenge.
Like Mendelssohn, you began playing an instrument at a young age. What about Mendelssohn inspires you? What do you love about the Violin Concerto?
Mendelssohn is so akin to Mozart, in his natural early genius for melody, harmonic interest, incredible flow. It’s really amazing how his very early works (the Octet is my favorite example, written at age 16) already show all the compositional abilities he ever needed, plus that rapturous joy of youth. The violin concerto is so pristinely perfect, I sometimes feel it can play itself and sound just as gorgeous as it does when imbued with all the personality in the world. That’s not to say it’s easy! The way he chose every note and it was the exactly right one means that the slightest smudge will mar the gloss, more than if it were one of those swashbuckling, special effects kind of pieces. To me the emotional progression from beginning to end, of early melancholy lyricism giving way to fiery anger, and times of great peace (perhaps envisioned from afar), then culminating in the elfin charm and triumph of the last movement puts this in the very highest echelon of great concertos.
Do you have children? If so, do they play an instrument? What is your number one practice tip for them?
I have two daughters, ages 9 and 4. They are both very musical, and the elder has been learning piano for 4 years. The younger is eager to start lessons on some instrument! My practice tip is to always remember the job of learning is one that takes just a few steps every day. Don’t expect perfection too soon, but do stay on a path of constantly improving some little part of playing. Sometimes it’s uphill, and sometimes it’s an easy glide. Try ending each practice session with something that makes you feel good, a great song that reminds you why music is important to you.
What’s on your ipod playlist now?
I have to say I rarely listen to recorded music! No ipod, no playlist, I love live music and I love silence as well!
Maestro Bruce Hangen and the Orchestra of Indian Hill
featuring Juliette Kang, Associate Concertmaster, Philadelphia Orchestra, violin
True Genius: All Mendelssohn
Saturday, November 14 at 7:30 pm
Littleton HS Performing Arts Center
Tickets: $20, $35, $50
Watch Juliette and her colleagues from the Philadelphia Orchestra playing perhaps their most unique concert to date!
A Faculty Showcase Recital
Friday, November 6
7:00 pm at Indian Hill Music
BACH: Arias from Cantata No. 58 and BWV 115
BACH: Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007
MENDELSSOHN: Neue Liebe, Op. 19, No. 4; Aus Flügeln des Gesanges, Op. 34, No. 2; And’res Maienlied (Hexenlied), Op. 8, No. 8
MENDELSSOHN: Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 66
Susan Bonito, soprano
Angel Hernandez, violin
Alexander Vavilov, viola
Caroline Reiner-Williams, cello
Jenny Tang, piano
Why Bach and Mendelssohn together? It was composer Felix Mendelssohn who was largely responsible for ‘discovering’ the works of J. S. Bach. Just over 150 years ago, Bach’s “music and reputation languished in obscurity, virtually unknown to all but a few specialists. It was through Mendelssohn’s recognition of Bach’s genius and his efforts in making Bach’s works accessible to a wider public that these works are today recognized as summits of musical expression. Due to the curious number of coincidences involving the crossed paths of members of both the Bach and Mendelssohn families, it was perhaps inevitable in retrospect that Felix Mendelssohn would ‘rescue’ Bach’s music from near oblivion” (Performing Arts Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress).
“When I think of the words ‘Sublime,’ and ‘Prolific,’ I think of composers whose music has a spiritual connection and composers whose output staggers the mind,” says soprano, Susan Bonito. “Both Bach and Mendelssohn certainly fit this double bill. I based my musical selections for this concert on the idea of showing musical contrasts within the compositions of each composer, while having a unifying theme such as ‘spirit.’ I also wanted to collaborate with my string-playing colleagues.”
“Bach’s sacred works convey spiritual strength and confidence that comes from faith in God,” she said. “Since this concert is so close to Halloween, I selected Mendelssohn songs that speak of the supernatural or ‘spirits’ one might think of in folklore, fantasy or the occult. These songs are all strophic in form, and are true collaborations between the piano and voice.”
“One can literally hear the fairies flying about the moonlit forest in Neue Liebe. In Aus Flügeln des Gesanges, one can bask in the lush romantic fantasy of flying on wings of song and roses whispering of love. Hexenlied or Witch’s Song paints a fantastic and dramatic picture of witches flying through the lightning and wind to attend a magnificent dance at Broken Mountain.”
Cellist Caroline Reiner-Williams will perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 66, with violinist Angel Hernandez, and pianist, Jenny Tang. “The Mendelssohn Piano Trio No. 2 was chosen for this program by Jenny, Angel, and me,” she said. “The trio is a beautiful, rich Romantic work, and it also includes something unusual, which is the composer’s use of the Chorale melody known as ‘Old Hundredth’ in the final movement of the piece. This same Chorale melody had been used by Bach, centuries earlier, in several of his choral works. So not only is the trio wonderful in its own right, showcasing Mendelssohn’s brilliance in the Romantic compositional style, but it also reveals a thread of continuity from earlier times and influences.”
Tickets for the concert are $10 (general admission) / FREE for Indian Hill Music students, and will be available at the door. Learn more at (978) 486-9524×116 or order tickets online. Indian Hill’s Faculty Showcase Concert Series is supported by Nashoba Real Estate.