Michael Palmer conducts The New American Sinfonietta in Haydn's Symphony No. 92 ("Oxford") as part of the Georgia Festival of Music at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, June 22,2024. (credit: Casey Gardner Ford)

The New American Sinfonietta makes its Atlanta debut at inaugural Georgia Festival of Music

CONCERT REVIEW:
Georgia Festival of Music
June 22, 2024
First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
Atlanta, Georgia – USA

The New American Sinfonietta, Michael Palmer artistic director & conductor; Logan Souther, associate conductor; Alexander Wilkerson, TAOC conductor.
MOZART: Overture to Le nozze di Figaro
MOZART: Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”), Mvt. 2 (Andante)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B♭ major, Op. 60, Mvt. 1 (Adagio – Allegro vivace)
HAYDN: Symphony No. 92 in G major (“Oxford”), Hob. I/92

Charlotte Dennison | 24 JUN 2024

Upon entering First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, I was greeted with Tiffany-stained glass on all sides. The wooden floors, pews, and backdrops created a welcoming resonance. At 7:30 p.m., the pews were full of audience members of all ages.

The Atlanta debut of The New American Sinfonietta, to conclude the week-long Georgia Festival of Music and The Art of Conducting workshop, would begin soon. These three initiatives, which are here to stay, are courtesy of artistic director Michael Palmer and executive director Michael Yip’s Anacrusis Productions. The New American Sinfonietta made their debut in 2022 at The Hamptons Festival of Music (THFM), another festival created by Anacrusis, and will return to THFM this September.

Although this concert showcased recent initiatives of Anacrusis, Maestro Palmer is no stranger to performing great repertoire in beautiful spaces. He began his career in 1967 as assistant to Robert Shaw with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. For a decade, he walked to the Woodruff Arts Center every day from Ansley Park, right next door to First Presbyterian.


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Anacrusis began plans for a summer classical music festival in Atlanta in 2018, but progress was delayed due to the pandemic. They are passionate about sharing the beauty of classical music, especially the great repertoire, focusing on the quality of the art and its impact on the community. “The mission is to bring classical music to you”, he explained, and the intimate concert space truly helped with this mission. Although Maestro Palmer will most likely continue to start initiatives and create new musical opportunities for the rest of his life, he is beginning to “pass his baton” to the future generations, as we saw tonight.

Strangely enough, it is rare for classical music today to solely consist of Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn. Although it has been performed countless times throughout history, this music will never fail to speak to the soul. The effect is visceral in First Presbyterian, as the orchestra resonates without audio engineering. Additionally, the musicians are below the audience – the pews slope downwards, allowing the entire congregation to see the front without a podium. As audience members, it allows us to connect to the orchestra deeply.

The concert began with Logan Souther, a local conductor and pianist who studied with Maestro Palmer from age 15. As the orchestra performed the Overture to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, the audience was captivated, with some nodding and tapping along. The joy of this music is contagious, and listeners and performers smiled. Despite the high resonance of the room, the sixteenth notes were discernable; the resonance helped the notes meld together just enough to support the overall phrase naturally. Mr. Souther was energetic but concise and stable, which the musicians surely appreciated.


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Alexander Wilkerson, the first The Art of Conducting (TAOC) student, studied intensively with Maestro Michael Palmer and Michael Yip for the past week. As well as gaining valuable podium time, Mr. Wilkerson also learned about the business administration side of music, creating startups, fundraising, hiring, and more, thanks to the expertise of Mr. Yip.

Mr. Wilkerson led the next work on the program, the “Andante” second movement from Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”), which was performed beautifully. The strings played with full vibrato, and the sound filled the church. The violins fluttered above the tranquil chords below, and Mr. Wilkerson swayed along with the phrase. I could tell that he was smiling.

Mr. Souther returned before intermission for the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. In contrast to the Mozart, the rhythmic excitement was felt. The brass sforzandi contrasted with the piano ostinato of the strings, giving the impression of an innocent joke. Upward, fast-paced slurs showed the feeling of exuberance. The audience met the first half of the concert with warm applause.


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After intermission, Maestro Palmer came to the stage to lead Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 (“Oxford”). Before the performance, he announced his joy at seeing “fresh faces and old tired faces” in the audience. Haydn felt nostalgia as he realized that the classical era was ending and included it in this symphony.

From the introduction of the first movement throughout the piece, the orchestra made great use of the moments of rest and silence. These rests helped the audience to breathe with the music, relax, and connect. Without meaningful rests, there is a risk of watching the performance go by without being in the moment. With meaningful rests, the audience begins to breathe in sync with the orchestra and focus on the music. Similarly, the piano dynamics that Maestro Palmer used – the first true piano dynamics of the night – took my breath away. Finally, I love hearing instrument features in this space, and Haydn always does a wonderful job at this, creating moments for woodwind choir, brass choir, and string soli.

The second movement, in opera buffa style, felt nostalgic in a melancholy way, and the audience continued to breathe with the rests. As we reached the third movement, the sun began to set. The fourth movement led to nodding heads and tapping feet, as with Le nozze, and the concert ended with sincere applause. I am grateful to Anacrusis, The New American Sinfonietta, and First Presbyterian for making beautiful music accessible in Atlanta, and I am excited for what will come.

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About the author:
Charlotte Dennison is a cellist, choral singer, and music educator. She is a recent graduate of Georgia State University.

Read more by Charlotte Dennison.
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