October 31, 2018

Princeton University Orchestra Presents World-Class Italian Orchestra

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton University Music Department prides itself on training solid vocal and instrumental musicians. Both the University Orchestra and Glee Club tour overseas periodically, no doubt connecting with similar musical organizations internationally, and one of the most foremost European musical training institutions paid a visit to Princeton last week at the invitation of the University Orchestra. Based in Milan, Italy, the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala offers a full range of performing art onstage and backstage training, including an orchestra, which has been on tour this month in the United States. Last Tuesday night, the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala Orchestra presented a concert in Richardson Auditorium focused on a “Dialogue through Music” between Italy and the United States. Featuring music of 19th-century Italian composers or those connected to Italy, last Tuesday night’s performance enthralled the Richardson audience with fresh and youthful instrumental playing.  

Operatic composer Gioachino Rossini was the quintessential Italian composer, as well as one of the most financially successful of his era. Rossini’s 1817 opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) was equally as popular as his renowned The Barber of Seville, and its overture has been used in several significant films.  Led by Hungarian conductor and composer Iván Fischer, the Accademia Teatro Orchestra began the overture to La gazza ladra in a dramatic fashion, with snare drums (for which this overture is particularly known), on either side of the stage and the double basses bracketing the ensemble from the back. Fischer led the opening measures with broad conducting gestures, with an effective transition to a sprightly melodic theme from the violins. The full sound of the Teatro Orchestra was very clean, with well ornamented wind solos from oboist Charles Raoult-Graïc, clarinetist Giona Pasquetto, and piccolo player Ilaria Ronchi. Throughout the overture, running lines among instruments were always executed together.  

Felix Mendelssohn may not have been Italian, but his 1830 trip to Italy had a profound impact on his compositional output.  His Symphony No. 4 in A Major — the “Italian” symphony — captured the composer’s enthusiasm for Italy with a glorious opening theme cleanly played Tuesday night by the Teatro Orchestra’s violins. Fischer and the Orchestra took a very classical approach to the music, aided by graceful pizzicati from celli. Raoult-Graïc’s oboe solo cut well through the orchestral texture in the first movement, and an effective “walking bass” from celli and double basses set a dark but subtle mood to the second movement andante. Fischer maintained a quickly moving flow to the third movement, as a clean pair of horns added to the overall light and appealing sound of the ensemble. The Teatro Orchestra found dramatic contrasts in dynamics in the symphony’s final movement, bringing out movement’s saltarello and tarantella folk dance roots. The winds of the Orchestra proved themselves to be particularly agile in the furiously quick passages closing the symphony.

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky had a close relationship with the United States, but was equally as attached to Italy. The Teatro Orchestra chose to include Tchaikovsky’s 1888 Symphony No. 5 in E minor in their “Dialogue through Music,” acknowledging the composer’s description that “the nature, climate, artistic wealth, and history of Italy that you encounter at every step all have an irresistible charm.”

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 was rooted in the composer’s concept of fate, excerpting a melodic phrase from Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar as a “motto theme” recurring throughout the symphony. The clarinets of the Teatro Orchestra effectively opened the first movement with this theme, accompanied by violins always playing gracefully and with direction. A bassoon solo played by Camilla De Pilato, as well as sweeping clarinet and flute solos, brought joy to a movement begun in darkness. Hornist Konrad Markowski opened the second movement andante cantabile with a poignant melody against lush strings, answered by clarinetist Pasquetto and oboist Raoult-Graïc. Clean brass and timpani added to the drama as the Orchestra restated the “motto theme.” The Teatro Orchestra well emphasized the waltz character of the third movement with elegant and lilting melodies from the winds, and the ensemble brought the work to a close with fast and light playing always on the front edge of the rhythm.  


ike many other Tchaikovsky orchestral works, Symphony No. 5 ended in regal fashion, paying tribute to the composer’s appreciation for Italy, which the Teatro Orchestra extended to the Princeton community for the opportunity to play at Richardson. Presenting the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala Orchestra on the University campus both gave the community a chance to hear the best of musical youth from another country and allowed the Princeton University Orchestra members to see and hear other perspectives in international musical training.