Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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Music/Theater

Zurich Chamber Orchestra and Mark Laycock Celebrate 97th Birthday of Wiliam Scheide

Nancy Plum

Some January events never change from year to year. It snows (which it did in abundance last week), people brave the weather to get to where they want to go, and scholar/ humanitarian William H. Scheide has a birthday. These three elements came together last Thursday night in Richardson Auditorium as the celebration of Mr. Scheide’s 97th birthday filled the hall with the music of Mozart (whose 255th birthday fell on the day of the concert). Although one could contest the merits of 15 inches of snow in one day, one cannot argue with the benefits of listening to an evening of Mozart or an event to honor Mr. Scheide, who has given so much back to the community. As with other Scheide musical performances, Thursday night’s concert benefited a local nonprofit organization, in this case Princeton Healthcare System’s Design for Healing Campaign.

Many travelled through the snow to attend the concert, but the ones who came the furthest were the Zurich Chamber Orchestra from Switzerland and conductor Mark Laycock, currently making his home in Berlin. Mr. Laycock and the orchestra were joined by two international soloists to perform music selected specifically by Mr. Scheide for his birthday, and these works proved to be audience-pleasers as well.

Mozart’s opera overture to Cosi Fan Tutte is heard less often than his overtures to The Marriage of Figaro or The Magic Flute, but contains the same crisp rhythms and tuneful melodies as much of Mozart’s repertoire. Mr. Laycock kept the overture light, allowing the chamber-sized orchestra to bring out the accents in the presto. Celli and double basses punctuated the music gracefully, and oboe, flute, and bassoon (played by Kurt Meier, Christian Delafontaine, and Rui Lopes, respectively) chased one another in elegant solo passages.

Mr. Scheide also chose two concert arias by Mozart for this celebration. Although composed outside the scope of the operas, Mozart often inserted his concert arias into other composers’ productions (apparently a common practice of the time). Mozart composed “Mia speranza adorata!” and “No, che non sei capace” for the sister of the woman he eventually married, evidently a soprano with a phenomenal upper range. To sing these arias, the Scheides brought to Princeton Jihye Son, a soprano trained in Italy and currently making her mark in coloratura roles worldwide. Ms. Son sang both these arias with expressiveness and feeling, having no trouble with the particularly high-speed coloratura runs of the second aria.

“Mia speranza” was mostly in the style of an accompanied recitative, and Ms. Son declaimed the text with clarity and a pleasing vocal edge. Mr. Meier provided a long and languorous oboe countermelody to Ms. Son’s clear high register and diction. The refined first aria served as a teaser to Ms. Son’s capabilities, and one definitely wanted to hear her really rip something with vocal fire. That was the second aria, which displayed shades of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio in its quick runs. With a very light spin on the sound, Ms. Son raced up and down the scales and through the repeated patterns with agility and suppleness. At a time when other composers were moving away from virtuoso arias for virtuosity’s sake, Mozart added lyricism and charm to the technical demands, all of which Ms. Son and the Zurich Orchestra presented well.

Mr. Laycock closed the first half of this birthday celebration with another showcase piece for another soloist. Clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy comes from a long and historic musical lineage, and brought his own individual style to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major. Mr. Laycock began the first ritornello with a steady beat in the celli and double basses and when the soloist’s part began, it was with a sweet and engaging clarinet sound. Mr. Ashkenazy was an introspective performer, playing almost as if he were playing for himself by a lake where there just happened to be an orchestra. Like Mozart’s vocal works, these solo lines also dashed up and down scales, which Mr. Ashkenazy handled well, delineating the repetitions in the instrument’s lower register cleanly. Mr. Laycock watched his soloist carefully, bringing out the effects which showed how Mozart’s music was rooted in song. Mr. Ashkenazy’s majestic second movement solo evoked the Count and Countess of The Marriage of Figaro, and Mr. Ashkenazy demonstrated particularly effective dynamic shadings to reinforce the character of the movement.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D Major is always popular with audiences, and Mr. Laycock paired this work with another of his rare and unusual manuscript “discoveries” which just happens to be perfect for the birthday occasion (the yarns Mark Laycock spins as to how he “finds” these pieces are as entertaining as the works themselves). Ein Musikalischer Geburtstags Spass (“A Musical Birthday Joke”), coincidentally catalogued as K. 97 (the real symphony K. 97 has no autograph score to confirm its authenticity) was, as with all the Laycock-Scheide birthday musical creations, an amazingly clever amalgamation of a composer’s “hits” with “Happy Birthday” interspersed. The average concert-goer probably had no idea that “Happy Birthday” could fit so well into the Mozart’s overture from The Magic Flute, music from Don Giovanni and Symphony No. 40, Papageno’s aria and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. It is no small feat to write musical parodies on the master, and a great deal of credit must be given to Mr. Laycock as an arranger to produce something that is both musically accurate with such a humorous twist.

The Scheide musical birthday celebrations are, as William Scheide’s life has no doubt been, packed with multiple purposes and aims. Given the list of sponsors and number of people in the audience, it appears that a good amount of money was raised last Thursday night, much great music was performed by wonderful musicians, and a great time was had by all.

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