Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 20
 
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
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Music/Theater

Princeton Symphony Orchestra Ends Season With a Graceful Journey Through Music

Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra ended its 2009-10 season with a taste of what is in the future — new Music Director Rossen Milanov led the ensemble in a clean and well-nuanced program of 19th, 20th, and 21st century music this past weekend. From the audience reaction to the performance in Richardson Auditorium on Sunday afternoon, it is clear that the community has fully welcomed the new conductor in town.

Mr. Milanov paid tribute to the afternoon’s weather with the first piece of the program, Felix Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The precision and grace of the one-movement overture made the audience feel as though they had been on an afternoon sail at the end of the piece. Mendelssohn composed a number of pieces based on poetry and depicting picturesque scenes, and this work combined two poems by Johann von Goethe to paint a musical view of a sunny afternoon on the ocean.

Mr. Milanov took an unruffled approach to the opening of the piece as two sustained flutes (played by Jayn Rosenfeld and Mary Schmidt) accompanied William Amsel’s solo clarinet in the serene and pastoral music. Mr. Milanov kept the music well contained, with almost imperceptible solos and exacting attention to ensemble detail. Ms. Rosenfeld led her fellow wind players well in depicting the “wind” trying to move the boat along. In the second section, Mr. Milanov finally allowed the music to take off, eventually settling into a peaceful and joyous sailboat ride, symbolically appropriate for the perfect spring day outside the concert hall.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra followed up the Mendelssohn work with a piece of a very different character and from a very different time period. American composer Sebastian Currier scored his Broken Minuets for solo harp and string orchestra, and divided the piece into five sections described by adjectives: Elegant, Fleeting, Accentuated, Calm, and Gentle. These qualities certainly pertained to the solo harp, expertly played by young and versatile Bridget Kibbey. The music of Broken Minuets was fragmentary (as described by the composer), fairly classical at times, and jarring at others, especially from the harp. Most surprising was the low register with which the harp began — this was not a piece that made extensive use of the instrument’s familiar flowing arpeggios. Throughout the work, Ms. Kibbey found intensity and variety in the solo part, accompanied by strings playing deliberately without vibrato. The solo harp line took off in the second movement entitled Fleeting, and fit right into the jazz idiom of the third movement. Mr. Currier employed some very interesting compositional effects in this piece, including shimmering bowings which worked their way through the individual string sections.

Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations was linked to the Mendelssohn work which opened the concert in its quote of a clarinet solo line. Mr. Milanov and the ensemble presented the opening theme as a plaintive and thoughtful tune, cleverly set in thirteen variations representing people in Elgar’s life. Mr. Milanov brought out the drama and humor of the piece, aided by elegant solos by clarinetist Mr. Amsel, violist Stephanie Griffin, and cellist Jodi Beder. Like the people in Elgar’s life, the thirteen variations were diverse in character, allowing the ensemble to explore a wide range of orchestral colors and dynamics. The core movement of the work seemed to be Variation No. 9, in which Mr. Milanov led the orchestra in a stately manner, allowing the music to grow. The 10th variation was also delicately ended, with clean and steady winds (especially the bassoons) helping to hold the latter movements of the work together.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s season next year (which will be Mr. Milanov’s first full season as Music Director) will include a mix of classical standards and contemporary works new to both the orchestra and audience. The season will surely intrigue the audience with its unusual repertoire, and no doubt extend the capabilities and reach of people on both sides of the podium.

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