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Princeton Symphony Orchestra Closes Season With Rapture and Sumptuousness

Nancy Plum

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra wrapped up its 25th anniversary season on Sunday afternoon with a tribute to the ballet. Paris in the 1920s was a hotbed of innovative dance and music amalgamation, and PSO conductor Mark Laycock transported this heyday to Richardson Auditorium with the music of Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, and Maurice Ravel, all of whom wrote for the ballet. The Princeton Symphony has a lot to celebrate in its 25th anniversary season, as the ensemble showed off its precise and solid playing in these works. It was a particularly good afternoon for the violas, which were featured as a section in each of the works.

American composer Aaron Copland was renowned for writing music that painted a landscape, and his Appalachian Spring (originally titled Ballet for Martha [Graham]) draws from instrumental solos and old American tunes to capture Ms. Graham's vision of a "new town where the fence has just gone up." Copland focuses on the inner voices with solos which add to the American flavor of the piece. The solo winds in Sunday afternoon's performance – flutist Mary Schmidt, oboist Peter Velikonja, and clarinetist Daniel Spitzer – all played with elegance and grace, accompanied by a sectional string sound which was very clean. Concertmistress Basia Danilow played an especially sweet solo, and the brass section was particularly crisp in its presentation of the well-known "Simple Gifts" theme.

Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (the Rite of Spring) was most known for its scandalous premiere at which the public was incited to near riot. This work was written for a Diaghilev ballet and its driving rhythms and percussive syncopation was a little much for an audience used to the smooth impressionistic music of Debussy and Ravel. For this performance, Mr. Laycock took a quick but not out-of-control tempo, and the famous "Auguries of Spring" scene moved right along. It might have been tough to dance to this speed, but it was easy to listen to. Mr. Laycock directed musical traffic especially well in this piece.

Wind solos abounded in this two-movement work (especially bassoonist Roe Goodman and bass clarinetist Bohdan Hilash), and most impressive was timpanist Adrienne Ostrander, who provided very steady and precise playing. The percussive effects of the work were derived from the cellos and basses, which provided a clean and crisp sound.

The final ballet score on the program featured several movements from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloé suite, and the orchestra was joined by the Westminster Symphonic Choir, prepared by Sun Min Lee. Mr. Laycock brought out the impressionistic effects well, with flowing trills and lone lines, and once again the violas excelled. This period of music always features a number of winds speaking against a palette of strings, and most notable among these winds was Reva Youngstein, playing a rich and lush alto flute solo.

Mark Laycock programmed this concert to feature the rapture and opulence of both the music and the orchestra. It was a very effective way to show just how far the ensemble has come since its beginnings twenty-five years ago as a community orchestra, now a solid player in the regional orchestral arena.


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