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Seen and Heard International Concert Review


Mozart and Orff: soloists, Elizabeth Stoyanovich, cond., Bremerton Symphony Orchestra and Concert Chorale, Chora Voce, Tahoma Girls’ and Boys’ Choir, Bremerton Performing Arts Center, Bremerton, WA, 7.5.2006 (BJ)

It has always been my conviction that musical life is a pyramid (no–life isn’t a fountain!), and that a healthy level of activity at the top is in large degree dependent on a healthy base. Hence this review of a performance by the local amateur orchestra, in a largely blue-collar town–its economy founded on a shipyard and a naval base–of something under 40,000 inhabitants, just across Puget Sound from the much larger and more celebrated city of Seattle.

Despite my pyramid theory, I went to this concert without high expectations. How was an amateur ensemble, even one with a 63-year history to its name, going to cope with that most difficult of composers, Mozart? How was I, for that matter, going to cope with yet another performance of Carmina Burana, which is, to understate the case considerably, not one of my favorite works? What sort of audience could the orchestra hope to draw? And what sort of hall could such a city have to offer on its high-school campus?

Well, I should have had more faith. The afternoon was a triumph. Elizabeth Stoyanovich, music director here since 2003, is an extremely good conductor. Her orchestra, having navigated Mozart’s great Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola with aplomb, went on to tackle Orff’s bigger, splashier score with a confidence and an address that would have done many a professional orchestra proud. There was hardly a ghost of a fluff in even the most exposed solos, and the ensemble sound was at once rich and lucid, aided by the acoustics of a 1,200-seat hall of entirely professional standard, which moreover was about three-quarters full.

The soloists in the Orff acquitted themselves on the same high level. The soprano, Jessica Robins Milanese, sounded a tad acid of tone in her first few notes, but she quickly warmed to her work, and her final lascivious surrender, to the words “Dulcissime, totam tibi subdo me,” was meltingly lovely. Barry Johnson, who had the most of the three to do, delivered the baritone solos with authority and zest, and Paul Karaitis endowed the tenor’s roasted-swan-song with just the right touch of subversive wit. The assembled choruses were warm and well focused in tone, crisp in attack, and admirably clear in diction. I actually found myself thoroughly enjoying Orff’s hoary old chestnut, whose best qualities, notably its underlying innocence of inspiration, took welcome precedence on this occasion over its occasional sleaziness and crudity. Before intermission, in the Mozart, violinist Stephen Bryant, worthily partnered on the viola by Gwen Franz, completed a notable weekend double–he played just as splendidly here as he had the evening before in the Seattle Symphony’s Made in America Festival (reviewed elsewhere in these columns).

Even Ryan Raul Bañagale’s program notes (and I’m always complaining about the quality of program notes) were thoughtful and informative. But in any such enterprise as this, the chief credit for getting everything to work must go to the conductor. Ms. Stoyanovich does her work on the podium with economy of effort and grace of conception and execution. She has authority, elegance, technique, and taste–all the more surprising, therefore, that she completely missed the dynamic contrast in the first two measures of the Mozart, which asks for a tigerish sforzando-piano on the first two chords answered by a solid forte on the third. It didn’t, I thought, bode well. But that turned out to be my only complaint over the whole richly rewarding afternoon. Congratulations to all concerned. The pyramid is looking healthy indeed.

Bernard Jacobson


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