by Mark Gresham | 21 Nov 2012, ArtsATLThe Riverside Chamber Players performed a matinee concert on Sunday featuring two highly programmatic works: Bedřich Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1 (subtitled “From My Life”) and the world premiere of “I’ve Been to the Ocean” by Brian Dallow. … • READ MORE on ArtsATL
Mickelthwate steps in to lead, Smith performs an indispensable classic
by Mark Gresham | 18 Nov 2011
Thursday’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert at Symphony Hall was the second in as many weeks featuring an ASO principal musician as soloist. Principal flute Christina Smith performed Mozart’s “Flute Concerto No. 1,” flanked on either side by Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 2” and the “Symphony No. 2” of Jean Sibelius. The entire was led by guest conductor Alexander Mickelthwate, a former ASO assistant conductor who is now music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Mickelthwate was a late replacement for an ailing Ilan Volkov, thus the Beethoven overture a replacement for a planned pair of works by American composers Carl Ruggles and Ruth Crawford Seeger. (It is worth noting that although his full-time post while in Atlanta was with the ASO, Mickelthwate is possibly best remembered for leading an electrifying performance of John Zorn’s “Cobra” with Bent Frequency, a local new music ensemble he co-founded, at the alternative arts venue Eyedrum.)
The Beethoven opened the program. Of the four overtures to Beethoven’s sole opera Fidelio, what we know as the Leonore No. 2 was actually the first, written for premiere of the original 1805 version of the opera. The piece started off as a good but somewhat mainstream performance, but about halfway through the Allegro the work became fully engaged and exciting, then caught fire by the time it reached the two auf der Bühne trumpet flourishes played from off stage right by principal Thomas Hooten. From that point, the work was home free, down to the final repeated C major chords.
Mozart’s “Flute Concerto No. 1” was the next piece on the docket. The previous evening, I had talked with flutist Christina Smith by phone about performing it.
“I have done much more contemporary works the last several times I’ve been soloist,” said Smith. “Going back to Mozart is like and ice skater going back to their figure eights. It’s that basic core of beauty in our repertoire.” Such a basic part of repertoire it is, she indicates, that almost universally it is the first piece a performer is required to play for a serious audition, and indeed she teaches it to a lot of flute students for that purpose. So for Smith, going back and playing it in concert instead is a particular joy. The last time she performed it with the ASO was in 1998, with Carl Saint Claire conducting.
“[It] is very elegant, very poised, very idiomatic for the flute,” says Smith of Mozart’s writing. So she takes a relatively straightforward, simple approach to interpretation. “I think the music absolutely speaks for itself, and you don’t have to do anything innovative with interpreting it. It’s all about the things about the instrument that are beautiful: the lyricism of the flute, the tone quality, the light, beautiful articulation that the flute can do. Mozart absolutely captures that and that’s what I’m really going for when I perform it.”
And indeed, that is the epitome of the “classical mind” of Mozart’s day: beauty is something revealed by an artist, rather than forced into bloom by the artist’s will. Even if Mickelthwate was not fully in sync with Smith at a few points in the first movement, Smith’s performance was blithesome, with a natural virtuosic ease of expression; the second possessed lucid lyricism; and the concluding rondo a cheerful, sprightly tempo di minuetto.
The last time the ASO had performed Sibleius’ “Symphony No. 2” was in 2002, with Robert Spano conducting. It happens that this was during the time when Mickelthwate was an assistant conductor with the orchestra, which would have obliged him to be prepared to step in and conduct it if necessary. Sibelius is one of Spano’s strong suits, so the understudy work as an assistant surely would have had impact. Nine years later, Mickelthwate has made this Sibelius his own, and he brought to the symphony a warmly confident, sweeping interpretation. He will soon conduct it again back home with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, December 2nd and 3rd. □
Photo credits: Jeff Roffman
by Mark Gresham | 13 Nov 2011, ArtsATLThe Ying String Quartet played an engaging program of music by Arensky, Moravec and Beethoven last night at Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center. It was the final note of their four-day KSU residency, which included a series of master classes for students and a pair of community outreach performances. … • READ MORE on ArtsATL
Program adds Beethoven, drops Ruggles and Seeger
by Mark Gresham | 11 Nov 2011
Alexander Mickelthwate, music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra will replace an indisposed Ilan Volkov as guest conductor for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming concerts on November 17 and 19. Word is that illness prevents Volkov from traveling.
Mickelthwate is a former assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, having made his ASO debut in 2001. His most recent appearance with the orchestra was in 2005. While in Atlanta, Mickelthwate was also one of the co-founders of new music group Bent Frequency. The 2011-’12 season is Mickelthwate’s fifth with Winnipeg Symphony.
With the change of conductor comes a programming change: Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 2″ replaces two previously planned, rarely-heard American works: Carl Ruggles’s “Angels” and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s “Andante For Strings,” adapted from one of the movements of her sole String Quartet.
The rest of the program remains as planned. ASO principal flute Christina Smith performs Mozart’s “Flute Concerto No. 1,” and the concert concludes with the “Symphony No. 2″ of Jean Sibelius. Conveniently, Mickelthwate was already scheduled to lead the Winnipeg Symphony in a performance of the Sibelius on December 2 & 3.
More information about concert details and tickets may be found here. □
Photo of Alexander Mickelthwate courtesy of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
by Mark Gresham | 7 Nov 2011, ArtsATL“I discovered opera very early,” says Arthur Fagen, music director of the Atlanta Opera. “My grandfather used to take me to weekend matinee performances at both the Met and City Opera.” Later, during his teens, the Manhattan-born, Long Island-raised Fagen … • READ MORE on ArtsATL
by Mark Gresham | 6 Nov 2011, ArtsATLThere’s a paradox to an orchestral musician’s career, and mind-set. Music thrives on individuality, demanding that musicians express something unique to their inner expressive voice. Yet, in an orchestra, individuals must take a largely anonymous role within the massed forces. Occasionally, happily, principal players are afforded an opportunity to step out front, their voices heard as soloists. … • READ MORE on ArtsATL