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The long line of ticket buyers in Meredith's Jones Auditorium delayed the start of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra's Chamber Series concert on Sunday afternoon, January 26, 2003. The large crowd was attracted by the diverse elements making up the program, "Dance Inspired by Music and Music Inspired by Dance."
The program was organized by pianist and composer Lanette Lind to showcase compositions by Argentinean composer, Astor Piazzolla. Although most known for his tango music, Piazzolla also wrote many songs and chamber works. These pieces have catchy melodies and toe-tapping rhythms but demand precision and flexibility along with a strong sense of style.
The players gathered for the occasion took up the challenge gallantly, performing seven works on the concert's second half. The most successful were four songs interpreted by Cuban-born soprano Teresa Fernandez. Her highly accented English was often difficult to understand as she explained the background and texts of each song, but once she launched into Spanish, her intense, highly charged delivery brought them to life.
In Chiquilin de Bachin , the singer tells of her shame at witnessing the plight of a poor, hungry street urchin. Fernandez communicated the emotions with great expressiveness, while exhibiting fine control of high notes and ending dramatically on a held hummed note. (For this, she received a rare, mid-performance standing ovation.) The colorful accompaniment was "strings" only, with Harrison Fisher at the synthesizer, along with Tasi Matthews (violin), Michael Castelo (viola), and Dan Zehr (doublebass). Balada para un Loco portrays a "crazy" street person who challenges the meaning of sanity. The musicians gave this gripping melody, full of sharp chords and mesmerizing rhythms, a marvelous abandon, especially with additional players Patty Angevine (flute), Wayne Leechford (saxophone), Paul Minnis (accordion) and Lanette Lind (piano). Fernandez sounded like a Latin Piaf in her richly characterized rendering.
The simple Ave Maria , accompanied only by piano, was moving in its gentle pleading, Fernandez holding out long lines with amazing breath control. She was less effective in Adios Nonino , a tribute by Piazzolla to his father, because of the English-only narration, but the eight players caught the raucous edge of the piece, accented by Minnis' agile accordion.
Three other Piazzolla works all had interest but were too similar in mood. The musicians played well but more carefully and correctly than with soul and atmosphere. Milonga sin Palabras , for flute and piano, had lovely melodic lines but the playing lacked focus. A suite for stringed instruments about the struggles of an angel (Milonga, Muerte y Resurreccion del Angel ) allowed Matthews and Castelo to show off solo skills but the whole needed more abandon. Best was Soledad , for stringed instruments and sax, which Leechford played with a smooth moodiness, matched by Matthews' melancholy violin. Guitarist Silvano Caseres added subtle underpinnings to the last two works.
The first half was devoted to staged dances. Jackson Square , a twenty-minute ballet with eight experienced members of the Concert Dancers of Raleigh, had as its center a recent work by Lind, Man at Jackson Square , for piano, violin and clarinet. Famed former New York City Ballet dancer and Raleigh native Mel Tomlinson chose the lyrical, elegiac music to choreograph a series of pas de deux with Herbert Farrish as a blind man (signified by a red scarf tied over his eyes) interacting with various passers-by in a park (one of whom was his own daughter, Ashley). With Lind, Matthews and clarinetist Jim Williams playing on stage with the dancers, this portion of the ballet, which included impressive point work, was beautiful in its clarity and intriguing in its almost gymnastic use of the dancers' bodies. Somewhat unusually, the Lind piece was bookended by recorded selections from Darius Milhaud's Le Carnaval de Londres , all of which had a festive air and crisp rhythms. Tomlinson communicated the feeling of the music expertly through the dancers as they portrayed various visitors to the park. The confidence and conviction with which the dancers went about their assignments gave great tribute to the professionalism of both their teacher Karen Edwards and choreographer Tomlinson.
Edwards herself created a shorter dance, for the younger members of her Concert Dancers, to music by living American composer Richard Faith. His Sea Songs , for clarinet and piano, inspired the story of a young girl enticed by sea creatures to join them, only to find she cannot ever return to land. Faith's rolling watery passages were lyrically rendered by Lind and Williams, making an effective transition to the stormier, Stravinsky-like sections. Edwards' dancers had wonderful follow-through of lines and patterns, never allowing the actions to become cute or clichéd.
Lind deserves credit for pulling together such an ambitious program, involving so many segments of the community. More time may be needed for the musicians to get fully into the personality and depths of Piazzolla. Lind is scheduling more of his works on the next RSO Chamber series concert. Perhaps fewer and more varied selections will do the trick.