Thursday, January 30, 2003

Zhang, CCM students meet challenges

Concert review

By John K. Toedtman
Enquirer contributor

The University of Cincinnati Concert Orchestra, led by Xian Zhang, presented a program Tuesday evening in Corbett Auditorium that was ambitious for a student ensemble. The "second orchestra" at the College-Conservatory of Music certainly needed no apologies.

It is a first-rate conservatory orchestra in all respects. Maestro Zhang conducts with large, clear gestures and a fluid style. The sound produced is round, crisp, clear and rhythmically tight.

Verdi's Overture to Nabucco was written in 1842. The opera depicts the struggle of the Hebrews attempting to escape enslavement by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. The piece was given an expansive, if not explosive, reading by Zhang and the orchestra. The trumpets, however, experienced some intonation problems during this performance.

The Dances of Galanta by Zoltan Kodaly were premiered in Budapest, Hungary in 1933. Kodaly, as also Carl Orff, is best known for his work in music education and vocal music. Galanta is the town in Hungary where Kodaly lived for seven years as a child. During that time he heard much Hungarian gypsy folk music.

The Dances contain a rich fabric of folk tunes, many of which were used for the recruiting of soldiers during the Imperial wars. The work is thoroughly romantic and is relatively dissonance-free compared with much of the music composed in the mid-1900s. A wonderful clarinet solo was the handiwork of Kathryn Bolton, who sounds as though she is already a seasoned artist.

Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World") was written in 1893 during a three-year sojourn in America.

The themes in the symphony are not American folk tunes, but they are original tunes composed by Dvorak in the style of American folk music. Apparently, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha," influenced Dvorak's work on this symphony.

The first movement is in sonata allegro style containing the exposition, development and recapitulation. The largo is well known for its nostalgic "going home" theme. The scherzo is truly dance-like, and the fourth movement has all the fury and excitement one might have expected in the first movement.

It is a pleasure to hear young symphony musicians developing a sense of discipline and style under such expert direction. Some of these students will become music educators; others will work in unrelated fields but retain the joy of music-making for a lifetime. A few will join our professional orchestras.

Let us hope there will always be a place in our society for young people pursuing this most humanizing of the arts.

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