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Princeton University Alumnus Returns, Conducts Orchestra in Winter Concert

Nancy Plum

Princeton University alumni have long been noted for successful achievements in a variety of fields, but only recently have Tigers appeared in the upper echelons of classical music. With no performance major at the University, talented students must work incredibly hard to both reach their academic goals and refine their musical skills. Hobart Earle '83 not only represents Princeton well in the symphonic world, but also shows promise to be one of the long-searched-for next generation of talented American conductors. Since graduating from Princeton, Mr. Earle honed his conducting skills in Vienna and London, and has found a home as Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra in Ukraine – the first U.S. citizen to be appointed to such a position in a symphony orchestra in the former U.S.S.R. Mr. Earle demonstrated why he is viewed in such high regard in conducting circles this past weekend as he led the Princeton University Orchestra in a program of Tchaikovsky, Skalkottas, and Dvorak.

Music is never dull to this conductor. In Sunday afternoon's performance at Richardson Auditorium, Mr. Earle was clear in what he wanted from the orchestra and never allowed the music in any of the works to become stagnant or unmoving.

One change in protocol for the orchestra was their filing onstage as an ensemble just before the concert began, rather than sitting onstage tuning and playing through their parts, as orchestras often do. This onstage noodling can serve a purpose in allowing the players to tune their instruments within the acoustic of the hall and around each other, and losing this advantage may have accounted for the trumpets' rough start to open Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien. When joined by the trombones, the brass sections eventually blended well, and the brass and winds together effectively executed the offbeat precision required in the one-movement work. This piece has a tendency to wander through musical styles and moods, but Mr. Earle shifted musical gears impressively, capturing what Tchaikovsky called the "sincere and natural merriment of the Roman crowd."

Mr. Earle has a natural feel for the dark and Russian quality of Tchaikovsky, some of which he carried over to the Greek Dances of a little known Greek composer, Nikos Skalkottas. Mr. Skalkottas was composing in the first half of the 20th century in Berlin, a musical environment overshadowed by both world politics and the plethora of composers coming out of Paris at the same time. His thirty-six Greek Dances were composed over eighteen years, and the four presented in this concert included several different styles, brought out well by Mr. Earle. The oom-pah backdrop in the brass, winds, and lower strings was well contrasted with delicate wind solos, especially from clarinetists Ayan Chatterjee and Ben Elias, oboists Linnea Hartmark and Conner Ross, flutist Lindsay Brillson, and bassoonist Nicole Rowsey.

Mr. Earle demonstrated the orchestra's full sound in Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (the New World symphony), and once again the winds excelled. Ms. Brillson and fellow flutist Katharine Moore, Ms. Hartmark and fellow oboist Emily Herchen and clarinetists Mr. Elias and Ben Holskin provided precise playing which added to the "American" flavor this symphony is perhaps mistakenly known for. Ms. Hartmark also played the exquisite Going Home theme of the second movement on the English horn, adding to the Copland-esque sound of the work. A surprising violin/cello duet, well played by concertmaster Kiri Murakami and cellist Diana Rosenblum, broke out of the orchestral fabric in the second movement, and the trombone section brought the symphony to a close with the familiar brass theme in the fourth movement.

America is in desperate need of young native conductors, and occasionally they surface out of nowhere (usually from European ensembles) to show that there is a new generation of conductors out there. With the ever-growing strength of the Princeton University Music Department over the years, more and more Princeton graduates will no doubt surface in and in front of American orchestras in the decades to come.

The Princeton University Orchestra's next concert will be March 5 and 6. Michael Pratt will conduct music by Mozart and Stravinsky. The winners of the 2004 Concerto Competition will be featured. Call (609) 258-5000 for information.

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