Best of the Arts 2011: Classical Music

December 29, 2011

The Boston Cello Quartet concert in Woods Hole (MBL, Lillie Auditorium) in June was one of the highlights of the musical year.

The Cape has much to offer music lovers of all kinds, no matter what one’s musical preferences. This is a sampling of the best offerings for 2011, but there are many other choices that could have been made, and many venues and musicians offering excellent opportunities to hear live music. This list is of those concerts that stood out for me; upcoming concerts are also listed for those who might have missed the 2011 events.

Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, 50th Anniversary Concerts

From its elegant Vienna-themed New Year’s Day concert, complete with Viennese coffee and pastries, to its December holiday concerts (five of them, over three days, all sold out), the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra has given us a spectacular year. It is impossible to pick one concert that stood out from all the others, but the opening concert of the 2011-2012 season in September might be the one to mention here, not only because it introduced the orchestra’s 50th anniversary year, but because it did so with such joy and virtuosity, directed with enthusiasm, as always, by Jung-Ho Pak.

The concert featured the premiere of “Cape Cod Impressions,” commissioned from two Cape Cod composers, David M. Cohen and Don Nardo. Mr. Cohen wrote the first two movements, “Sunrise on the National Seashore” and “Summer on the Cape.” Mr. Nardo composed the second two: “Hidden Harbor” and “In Full Sail.”

The orchestra also performed the “Anniversary Overture” by Malcolm Arnold, coincidentally a piece chosen by former CCSO conductor Royston Nash on the 25th anniversary of the orchestra. Mr. Nash was the surprise guest conductor for Giuseppe Verdi’s “Overture to Nabucco,” to the delight of the audience.

Guest soloist Jon Nakamatsu performed Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3 in C minor for Piano and Orchestra. The choice of Mr. Nakamatsu as soloist was especially fitting, not only because he is a fine pianist (a winner of the Van Cliburn piano competition), but because he is also co-artistic director of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival. The concert ended with a jubilant “Happy Birthday Variations,” arranged by John Williams.

Upcoming: The CCSO is giving its second annual New Year’s Day concert on Sunday, honoring the Viennese tradition with music by Strauss and his contemporaries, and offering Viennese pastries as well. Then, on January 21, at 8 PM, and January 22, at 3 PM, the CCSO will present “Tchaikovsky’s Winter Dreams: Great Expressions of Russian Romanticism,” with pianist Martina Filjak performing Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 23. A special celebration is offered on Wednesday, February 1, when cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs with the orchestra (though tickets are nearly all sold out for that concert). For ticket information, visit www.capesymphony.org.

Simon Sinfonietta, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

The Simon Sinfonietta, a 40-piece chamber orchestra directed Stephen Simon, has been performing in the warm, intimate space at Falmouth Academy since 2004. Mr. Simon is known for bringing together little-known gems of Baroque and classical music, talented local musicians, and accomplished soloists.

In May, Mr. Simon did something completely different. Joining forces with John Yankee, director of both the Falmouth Chorale and the Falmouth Academy chorus and Joseph Marchio, director of Chatham Chorale, he conducted an expanded orchestra of 52 players and a combined chorus of almost 150 singers in a gala performance of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor. The symphony is much loved, especially for its fourth movement, “Ode to Joy.”

The concert was held at the Parish of Christ the King in Mashpee, one of the few places on the Cape that could accommodate the many musicians and the large audience that turned out for the event. Mr. Simon led the musicians with a keen respect for the music and an abundance of enthusiasm. Though the words were in German, the theme of the symphony, universal brotherhood, resonated throughout the hall.

Upcoming: The Simon Sinfonietta’s next concert is February 18 at 7:30 PM at Falmouth Academy, and features classical guitarist Benjamin Verdery, who will perform Vivaldi’s Guitar Concerto on D Major. Other works include Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D Major, “The Prague,” Juan Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez, and Carl Maria von Weber’s Symphony No. 2. Tickets are $40, $10 for students. For more information, call 508-457-9696 or visit www.simonsinfonietta.org.

Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra: Fall Concert

Brittany Rodriguez at the piano, just prior to playing with the Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra

The Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra, now in its fourth year, is made up primarily of amateur musicians from across the Cape, but also includes some professionals. Conducted by John Yankee, the orchestra generally performs concerts in the fall and spring, often featuring a soloist, and offers informal reading sessions for musicians in the summer.

The orchestra had invited Robert Wyatt to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in November, and many in the community were looking forward to hearing Dr. Wyatt perform. Unfortunately, he had a bicycle accident on the Monday before the weekend concerts, and was unable to perform. (He is recovering well now.)

With almost no time to find a substitute pianist, Mr. Yankee called on friends and colleagues throughout New England. Finally, a student at the New England Conservatory’s preparatory school, Brittany Rodriguez, was located. She was studying the concerto for a piano competition and for a scheduled performance in Bogota, Colombia, in December. Only 11 years old she came with high recommendations from NEC.

The young prodigy did brilliant job, performing the half-hour concerto from memory, with seeming ease, confidence, and a love of the music and the whole experience. It was her first time playing with an adult orchestra, and she loved every minute of it.

The orchestra performed beautifully too, not only on the concerto, but also on an impassioned presentation of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which followed. This was a big undertaking for a chamber orchestra, but the FCPO played with power, sensitivity, and an obvious love for the music, and for sharing it with the community.

Upcoming: The Falmouth Chamber Players will perform a musical celebration designed to appeal to the whole family on Saturday, January 28, at 7 PM, and Sunday, January 29, at 3 PM, at the Cape Cod Conservatory, 60 Highfield Drive in Falmouth. The concert will include traditional music by Schubert, Bach and Telemann, and lighter fare, such as a “zany” arrangement of “Three Blind Mice” and works for various combinations of winds and strings. Suggested donation is $10 for adults and $5 for those under 16. For more information, call Fritz Sonnichsen at 508-274-2632.

Mastersingers by the Sea, “Autumn”

Mastersingers by the Sea, under the direction of David MacKenzie, presented “Autumn: A Season of Mystery” in October, an elegant collection of instrumental and chorale works celebrating the mystery and power of the season: Vivaldi’s “Autumn” violin concerto from “The Four Seasons” and his Concerto for Two Flutes in C, as well as Francesco Durante’s “Magnificat,” and two newer works, Jennifer Higon’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and Knut Nystedt’s “Immortal Bach,” and other works.

The auditioned chorus has a very focused and harmonious sound, blending well with the small orchestra. The instrumentalists are all members of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, which Dr. MacKenzie also conducts, and the cohesiveness and professionalism of the combined ensembles is evident.

Upcoming: The Mastersingers will present “Winter: A Season of Remembering,” on Saturday, February 25, at 8 PM, and Sunday, February 26, at 3 PM, at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Falmouth. The program will include Vivaldi’s “Winter” violin concerto from “The Four Seasons,” Samuel Barber’s “Dover Beach,” Mozart’s “Missa Brevis,” Alberto Williams’ “Primera Suite Argentina for Strings,” and Dominick Argento’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $10 for students. For more information, visit www.mastersingersbythesea.org.

Falmouth Chorale, “Coming of the Flood”

A scene from “Noye’s Fludde.”

The Falmouth Chorale’s fall concert, “The Coming of the Flood,” was a creative and varied presentation by director John Yankee. The 73-member chorale had wonderful expressive sound, and Mr. Yankee brought out every aspect of its musicality, giving each work a distinct flavor.

The first half of the concert included a wide variety music written from the 1500s to the present day, about water, the ocean, and the rain, culminating in a dramatic contemporary piece, “Cloudburst,” incorporating handbells, percussion, piano, and the 15 young people in the chorale’s Coro Ragazzi Children’s Chorus.

The second half was a rich and multifaceted “Noye’s Fludde,” a one-act opera by Benjamin Britton. The work was written for both professional and amateur vocalists and instrumentalists, and children. Mr. Yankee brought in amateur musicians from the Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra, professionals from the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, a recorder choir, a bell choir, five percussionists, keyboard players, professional and amateur vocal soloists, young ballet dancers from the Turning Point Dance Studio and singers from Coro Ragazzi, and brought the audience in with several sing-along hymns.

It was a wonderful production, full of life and feeling, warmth and humor

Upcoming: The Falmouth Chorale’s next concert “Samson,” by George Frideric Handel, is on Saturday, March 17, at 7:30 PM, and Sunday, March 18, at 3 PM, at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth. Handel. The oratorio tells the story of Samson’s last days. For more information, visit www.falmouthchorale.org

Boston Cello Quartet

The Boston Cello Quartet performed in Woods Hole in June, presenting a variety of works written or arranged for four cellos. The cellists, all young members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, are marvelously talented, bringing virtuosity, individuality, and a range of emotions to the music, extending the range and musical characteristics of the cello, sounding at times like all the instruments of the orchestra.

Upcoming: The Boston Cello Quartet will return to Cape Cod on May 27, for a 3 PM concert at the Unitarian Church in Barnstable and may also perform again in Woods Hole during the summer. For more information, visit www.bostoncelloquartet.com.

Briefly Mentioned

The TD Bank Pops by the Sea concert, featuring the Boston Pops and presented by the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod is an annual August highlight, held on the Hyannis Village Green. For more information on the 2012 event, visit www.artsfoundation.org/pops-by-the-sea.

JazzFest Falmouth offered a Jazz Stroll on September 30, with musicians performing in local eateries and shops and outside, their music enjoyed by young and old alike. For more information, visit www.jazzfestfalmouth.org.

Two folk venues offered well-known and upcoming singer-songwriters and folk and roots musicians: the Woods Hole Folk Music Society (www.arts-cape.com/whfolkmusic) and the Cotuit Center for the Arts (cotuitarts.org), where the Third Fret Coffeehouse has moved.

The CCftA also offers the Art Barn Songwriter Series, Wine and Music Wednesdays, and a regular series of concerts by rock, jazz, blues, popular, classical, and roots music.

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