Classical music review: Montclair Orchestra’s Scottish welcome
By WILLIAM AMORY
For Montclair Local
Montclair Orchestra’s concert Sunday at First Presbyterian Church of Montclair, “Ceud Mìle Fàilte” (Scottish Gaelic for “a hundred thousand welcomes”), was a vivid and dramatic tour of imagined Scotland.
The evening included a dazzling solo violinist, an excellent bagpiper, an evocative tone poem, and a symphony that thrilled, despite some passages that were on the harsh side.
Andre Weker, founder and President of the Montclair orchestra, introduced the concert wearing a kilt: he did so honorably, as he is descended from the MacLeod clan. The concert began with a piece by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies called “An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise” that starts with a welcome to the wedding: in Davies’ own words, quoted in the program, “At the outset, we hear the guests arriving, out of extremely bad weather, at the hall.” And in Davies’ musical telling, the image and feeling of this celebration as it starts is vivid and human in its musical illustration. The piece continues, again according to Davies, as “the guests are solemnly received by the bride and bridegroom and presented with their first glass of whisky.” The audience was then treated to a wonderful tuning of the wedding dance band, with a cacophonous sliding and jumble of pitches from all the instruments of the orchestra: an orchestrated chaos that brought the scene vividly to life. The dance music started, and got “wilder, as all concerned felt the results of the whiskey,” as the celebration continued. The “sunrise” of the title is the last segment of the piece, as a bagpiper (Kenneth Mackenzie) entered. In Davies’ words again, “the sun rises, over Caithness, to a glorious dawn. The sun is represented by the highland bagpipes, in full traditional splendor.” The composer’s words seem to have been brought to full, human life in his music: there is the beginning, a procession, a celebration, (tuning!) tipsiness, dancing, and then the departure from the wedding into as “glorious” a dawn as has ever been communicated in music. Maestro David Chan’s players were 100 (a hundred thousand, see the concert’s title) percent committed, and played with joy and precision. They even vocalized the guests’ comments on the tuning with evident enjoyment. And the bagpipes fulfilled a dramatic and perfectly integrated Scottish role in the drama and concert, both. It was a vivid and human drama rendered in sound.
After Davies’ “Orkney Wedding” the orchestra played Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy,” his Opus 46. For this piece, too, we were treated to some words by the composer in the concert program. Bruch wrote that the opening of his Scottish Fantasy depicts “an old bard, who contemplates a ruined castle, and laments the glorious times of old.” Visiting soloist Richard Lin played with sumptuous tone and demonstrated beautiful legato playing. His beginning phrases were so deep in the string that there was only complete submersion into the music. The orchestra’s musicians joined in with unity of phrasing, and evident physical commitment to the sweep of the music, the string players leaning into the phrases with their bodies. Lin played with virtuosic abandon and truly beautiful tone, all the way up to the highest position on his fingerboard. There is a feature at the end of some of the Scottish tunes in Bruch’s “Fantasy” which could be called an extended coda, in which the cross rhythms of the soloist’s part and the orchestra’s become more elaborate even as the music hastens towards its close: Lin navigated these many extra notes and the pyrotechnic melodic ornamentation with ease. Harpist Mariko Anraku contributed essential music throughout.
After intermission the orchestra played Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56,” called the “Scottish” Symphony. Chan explained that he had always wanted to perform Mendelssohn’s “Scottish Symphony,” and once he knew that violinist Lin’s repertoire included the Bruch, voilà! According to the program, Mendelssohn wanted his symphony’s four movements to be played without breaks between them. Inspired by a trip to Scotland, Mendelssohn writes that the opening of the symphony came to him when he was in Queen Mary’s ruined castle, the Palace of Holyrood House. The first movement with this “Holyrood Castle” theme’s unison string sound verged on being a bit harsh, perhaps needing a bit of adjustment to the acoustics of the venue. In the second movement, the clarinet’s opening theme was played beautifully by Innhyuck Cho, and then the theme traveled to the rest of the woodwinds for an evocative opening into a lyrical musical landscape. Chan’s conducting in the adagio movement brought out the music’s sweet quality. In the fourth movement, to stay with the theme of tempo, Chan’s tempo was so “right”: there was no space between the listener and the music.
This evening’s concert by the Montclair Orchestra demonstrated again how indispensible the ensemble is to the Montclair community.