Jon Gustely, horn. Photo courtesy of Louisville Orchestra.

Michael Colvin, tenor. Photo courtesy Intermusica.

 Louisville Orchestra: Glass, Britten, Bizet

Jorge Mester, conductor
Featuring Michael Colvin, tenor
and Jon Gustely, horn

Reviewed by Scott Dowd

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Scott Dowd. All rights reserved.

When Jorge Mester returned six years ago as music director of the Louisville Orchestra, he came armed with an artistic master plan. The plan included a conscious effort to rely less on big-name, expensive soloists and feature members of the ensemble more prominently than before. The maestro’s plan was evident in his selections for this week’s classics concerts, which included the Symphony No. 3 of Philip Glass; Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31; and George Bizet’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major. Thursday morning, I joined several hundred others at the Brown Theatre for the Treyton Oaks Tower Coffee Classic performance.

The concert opened with Glass’s Symphony No. 3. It is a unique work in the symphonic repertoire in that the piece is scored for only strings, and not even the full string section at that. This is a challenge in the Brown, which needs the power of numbers to overcome acoustical idiosyncrasies. This left the performance lacking some of the brightness and clarity usually expected from Glass. Minimalist music is deceptively intricate and each instrument is, as Dr. Mosley mentions in his program notes, essentially a soloist. As in cooking, when you do something simple it has to be done perfectly, and there were some issues with balance and timing that marred the first movement. By the second movement, the ensemble found its center of gravity that allowed concertmaster Michael Davis’s solo to soar.

With the performance of Benjamin Britten’s Serenade, the maestro again achieves his previously stated goal of bringing individual musicians to the fore. The extraordinarily accomplished principal horn Jon Gustely was joined by Irish-Canadian tenor Michael Colvin in this performance. Thursday’s performance realized another of the Mester’s goals in that the 70-year-old work had not yet been performed by the Louisville Orchestra. Britten wrote the piece in 1943, and it was performed by Denis Brain and the composer’s life-long companion Peter Pears originally. Both the Prologue and Epilogue are set for solo horn and strings and demand technical perfection – a fact that has long made this work a favorite for those wishing to demonstrate their virtuosity. Gustely’s confidence was evident as he deftly delivered his stunning and flawless interpretation of the music. Not to be outdone, Colvin captured the audience from the first note of the Pastoral, in which Britten set to music the beautiful words and ideas of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Despite its seven decades, Britten’s canny juxtaposition of tenor and horn and the color lent by his notation that the horn rely on its natural overtones gives this piece a sense of modernity.

The program concluded with the full orchestra in a performance of Bizet’s long-forgotten Symphony in C Major. Bizet, the child prodigy, had already been eight years at the Paris Conservatory when he wrote the symphony in 1855. He was seventeen, and for reasons lost to us seems never to have mentioned the work or attempted to publish it. The piece was rediscovered in the conservatory’s archives nearly eighty years after it was written. It is easily understood why for many years this work was favored by students at the conservatory as a work to prepare conducting students. The bones of this symphony are solid and mature, its orchestration textbook perfection. It is in the adagio of the second movement that Bizet’s genius for melody can be heard, as the oboes sing a phantasmal song. We can only hope that interim principal Jennifer Potochnic and interim Alex Winter can be retained as permanent members of the Louisville Orchestra. That we have fewer musicians under contract is a simple fact of life and resources. That being the case let’s be sure they are each of the caliber Maestro Mester requires to produce the kind of program I experienced on Thursday.

Louisville Orchestra: Glass, Britten, Bizet

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Friday November 16, 2012

Louisville Orchestra at

The Brown Theatre

315 W. Broadway

Louisville, KY 40202