Chamber Orchestra Review Print

Muti's Engaging Dynamics a Breeze

November 16, 2003 - Durham, NC:

Fait accomplis! "Achieved is the glorious work" - the creation and evolution of what I dare to dub the outstanding orchestra in the Triangle, perhaps in North Carolina. The full-bodied authentic Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle's homogenous blend truly moved the audience in the refurbished Carolina Theatre of Durham on the afternoon of November 16. Engaging dynamics executed by strong, balanced instrumental sections were sensitively conducted by Lorenzo Muti. Splendid strings, uncommonly good winds, and terrific tympani made his work a breeze. Sarah Johnson served as the concertmaster.

What was in this marvelous musical package? The offerings included Haydn's Symphony No. 88. Gladly would I have listened to endless repeats of sections, and happily there were many written and played very expressively, as indicated by Muti, the professionally committed conductor, now in his tenth season at the helm.

After intermission came Mozart's Symphony No. 35 in D, K.385 ("Haffner"). The orchestra played with energy, with delicacy when indicated and at times with jubilance, and it left the audience wanting more.

The conductor's introductory spoken program notes might better have been printed. Dates which are not parenthesized beside composers' names fly past us half hearing, and music history is lost momentarily to some of us, unless we can rely on visual review. The Maestro imparted the sense of the afternoon's program as representing the imminence of the developing transition from the classic to the romantic periods of music.

It is more often a pleasure when an orchestra, ensemble, or performing artist speaks first on stage through music. The audience can be given a glimpse of the personality of the performing artist who has shaped the presentation later, when announcing the encore or perhaps a deviation in the programming. Happily, this well-conceived program proceeded as printed. By the same token, greetings from a group's leader are more welcome at intermission, when the audience has experienced what it came for and awaited expectantly. They are, by then, ready to make a mental note to renew support or at least to subscribe to the next season!

White acoustic panels formed a shell that projected the music in such as way that it seemed to surround and infuse the listeners. By comparison, this uplifting "sound surround" did not happen in Meymandi Concert Hall last week when members of the North Carolina Symphony offered perfectly performed chamber music in the form of Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik." Having heard the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle only intermittently since its inception, the November 16 concert was, to me, the ultimate experience of fulfillment of its vision of excellence. Yet Leonard Gettes, a past chairman, commented on my appraisal, " All of the concerts have been played at this level."

Without exception, this afternoon the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle offered a superior musical experience under the baton of Artistic Director Muti. A very sincere and loud "Bravo" sounded over the applause that greeted the completion of the opening number, Schubert's Overture in D Minor, "in the Italian Style." From the opening dramatic strains that gave way to a lovely string melody, it was a sheer delight. This continued with a secondary theme in quick tempo, light and gay - in the old-fashioned way. During this, my mind drifted momentarily with the notice of a faint licorice aroma that led me to ponder the source of support for the arts in Durham and much of North Carolina. What began as tobacco money, now invested in the fine arts, has injected new life into the broad public sector of the State. "To everything there is a season and a... purpose... under heaven..."

Indeed, it was heartwarming that many major patrons of the orchestra were in attendance, and the fact that they have heard this pinnacle performance bodes well for their continuing support of this non-profit organization. A suggestion would be that the principal patrons at the most generous level be offered seating in the handsome Greek key-decorated boxes, empty today. That would open more seating in the orchestra section for the growing audience once word of today's event spreads through the Triangle and North Carolina. Then, unless the patrons choose continued anonymity, when the welcoming chairman acknowledges their support in the future, the person will simply have to gesture to a box at one side or the other so that the new audience members will know whom to thank for the gift of music.

"My, how you've grown!" is what a caring relative would say at Thanksgiving if she hadn't seen a young family member for 5 years. In that spirit of amazement, I heard the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle for the first time in at least five years. I had last heard this accomplished orchestra, twice, in Baldwin Auditorium, coming from out of town. Back then, the orchestra failed to impress the guests I had brought to hear it. I remember the COT's lovely beginnings as St. Stephen's Chamber Orchestra, in the '80s, and Robert Ward's assurance that when the Carolina Theatre was refurbished, it would be a proper venue for the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle. The prophecy was fulfilled in my ears today. Others are fortunate to have discovered it earlier.