Tuesday, May 16, 2000

CCO ends 'tryout' season on memorable note

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “If it's May, it must be Yehuda Gilad,” joked Mr. Gilad, the sixth and final conductor in a season of music director-candidates at the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra on Sunday afternoon.

        Barely 24 hours before the new music director was to be announced, Mr. Gilad proved an impressive contender in yet another inspired concert by the chamber orchestra in Memorial Hall.

        His program, which included Rossini, Mozart and an intriguing work by American composer Randall Svane, was balanced, provocative and built upon the strengths of the orchestra.

        Mr. Gilad, 47, an Israeli native, is a busy musician who combines teaching clarinet at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, with performing and conducting. He is professor of music at the University of Southern California and music director of the Colonial Symphony of New Jersey and the “Zipper” Orchestra of Los Angeles.

        After displaying a good-natured personality in the preconcert lecture, it was no surprise that also was the case in Mr. Gilad's music-making. Rossini's Overture to La Cenerentola was a vivacious curtain raiser, and the conductor captured its wit, drama and bravura.

        For the centerpiece, the orchestra gave the first Cincinnati performances of At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners for tenor and horn by New Jersey composer Randall Svane, 40. It is a haunting setting of the Holy Sonnets of English poet John Donne (1572-1631), styled after Benjamin's Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. (Britten also set the Donne Sonnet cycle.)

        The work was reminiscent of Britten in many ways — including its high tenor line — but it also echoed practices of recent decades, such as close harmonies and pulsating rhythms. With tenor Mark Bleeke and hornist Duane Dugger as soloists, the collaboration was a seamless blend of music and poetry.

        Mr. Bleeke's pure tone and imaginative expressive powers were suited to this music. He navigated the disjunct, long-breathed melody well, and projected such texts as “Death, be not proud . . . ” with clarity and emotion.

        His efforts were expertly matched by Mr. Dugger, whose lines complemented the singer's. Mr. Dugger, a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, played with warmth and beauty and added atmosphere to breathtaking effect.

        The desolate orchestral backdrop beautifully evoked Donne's somber words. The orchestra never overwhelmed the soloists, even when timpani added a note of drama. The result was radiant.

        Mozart's Posthorn Serenade made a spirited conclusion to the Mother's Day program, and Mr. Gilad was sensitive to its concertante nature. Flutist Rebecca Tryon Andres and oboist Christopher Philpotts carried on a sparkling conversation in the Concertante and Rondo movements, and Michael Kane wielded the posthorn admirably for his solo in the second Menuetto.

        The conductor's tempos contributed to its buoyancy; he pushed the envelope in the finale to bring the audience of 429 to its feet.

        One can only hope that new music director Mischa Santora will be able to keep up the momentum of this stimulating season.

        Concertmaster James Braid summed it up:

        “We've taken something positive from every candidate. We've had such a good set of finalists, that they have proved they can take us to a much higher level.”


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