Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 45
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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Tim Keyes New Piano Concerto Premiered Saturday Night in Richardson Auditorium

Nancy Plum

When a relatively unknown ensemble appears in Richardson Auditorium, one has to wonder who these players are, what their artistic mission is, and where they fit in among the Richardson regulars. The Tim Keyes Consort has been performing for more than a decade and has eight CDs to its credit, but Saturday night’s performance in Richardson seemed to be the organization’s first foray into one of Princeton’s premiere venues.

The Consort’s stated mission is to mentor young musicians with seasoned professionals in performances of both standard and newly-composed music, but it also presented itself as a performance vehicle for its founder and conductor, Tim Keyes, who has composed a number of sacred oratorios. Mr. Keyes has now ventured into the genre of piano concerto, and his American Coastlines, featuring Hopewell pianist Darlene Popkey, was the centerpiece of Saturday night’s concert.

In looking over the orchestra, it was clear that some of the players looked pretty young, and the ensemble roster indicated a number of sibling and other familial relationships. Although the overall ensemble sound in the opening Symphony No. 5 of Jean Sibelius (a composer from a region with a number of coastlines of its own) was a bit rough, there were a few stand-out players. Most notably, oboist Nick Gotto, bassoonist Timora Thurston, and French horn player Lisa Nettleship demonstrated very nice solo work, and Ms. Nettleship was no doubt key to the solid horn opening of the symphony.

The first movement of the symphony began with two extended slower sections, and it was not until the allegro moderato of the movement that the orchestra sound began to gel. Mr. Keyes probably needed to lead the players a bit more than he did as a conductor, and in the last two faster sections of the movement, the piece finally started to come together. Conductor and ensemble eventually developed a nice lilt to the music and the movement ended well. The second movement, andante, began with well-blended winds and brass against pizzicato strings and clean flutes, and the same key players led the ensemble well to the end of the work.

Tim Keyes conceived the piano concerto American Coastlines as a musical retrospective of geographical places from his past. The four movements of the concerto were probably a bit too long, but the best part of this performance was clearly Ms. Popkey, whose smooth and lithe playing moved easily through the fluid piano part. Mr. Keyes’ compositional style seemed to include many sequences and repetitive phrases changing keys, and Ms. Popkey’s conscientiousness made this repetitive material interesting. Ms. Popkey and Mr. Keyes have worked extensively together before, and clearly had a good performing relationship.

Joining the orchestra for Coastlines was a small chorus which sang from the far back of the stage, unfortunately making it hard to hear the voices when chorus and orchestra performed at the same time. The text to these Coastlines captured shoreline atmospheres, and in the third Coastline, the a cappella chorus was effective, with the chorus admirably aiming for very long lines.

Despite some flaws in refinement, the Tim Keyes Consort should be commended for its commitment to music education through active participation, not just classroom activity. If one looks at the overall mission of the organization, it is easy to overlook performance weaknesses and view the performance as a great opportunity for performers involved and a chance to get some new repertoire (with some very nice attributes) out on the stage.

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