Davóne Tines © Steven Pisano for Bachtrack
Louisville Orchestra Virtual Experience – Beethoven’s Eroica
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Special Guest Soloist – Baritone Davóne Tines
A review by Annette Skaggs.
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved
How I have missed the cacophonous sound of an orchestra tuning their instruments to begin their respective performance. While the joyful noise was not made at Whitney Hall among a celebratory audience or the thrill of the rat-a-tat-tat of the snare drum rousing said audience to stand and sing our National Anthem in celebration of the beginning of the Orchestra’s season, as is customary, the clever and imaginative team of our Louisville Orchestra came up with an alternative way of performing and making music. For all intents and purposes, I believe it was rather successful.
Most, if not all of us, have had to learn to adapt and overcome an obstacle or two in our daily lives these past six months or so, and our Louisville Orchestra and other artistic companies in and around the Commonwealth have had to do the same. To allow the Orchestra to return to the stage in a safe and socially distant way, they have implemented the Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition (LOVE) for the 2020-2021 season.
One can choose the whole season or per performance and for the cost, it is a steal. Not only are you able to watch and listen to your Louisville Orchestra, but you are also doing so from the comfort of your home, or coffee shop, or patio or where ever. Also, the live performances will be archived for viewing at your discretion after their airdates.
So, what does the concert look like, you may ask? One of my earliest memories of watching an orchestra would be when the Boston Philharmonic or London Symphony Orchestra would be highlighted on PBS. Different camera angles and fade-ins and outs would punctuate the delivery of music. The same can be said of this performance, using a local production company.
As far as the videography, I enjoyed it. I liked the tight shots on some of the players, including Teddy Abrams who served as both conductor and Master of Ceremonies (a task he has done on numerous occasions). Also fun were the sights from above. It was clear from those shots just how distanced the orchestra was from each other as they were spread across the ample Paristown Hall stage.
But let’s talk about sound and the music.
The selections of the evening were well thought out and each had its own story to tell. I could go on for pages in deciphering what these pieces were and what they represented, but, dear reader, I will not subject you to that. Instead, I ask that you listen and view the performance when it is on-line again for consumption.
The evening began with special guest artist Baritone Davóne Tines standing on a stage-like platform, on the floor to the side of Conductor Abrams, with a microphone placed squarely in front, dressed in black, performing John Rosamond Johnson’s Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. Unfortunately, it was at the beginning of the second line of the song that the video feed cut out. When I was able to get the feed going again, Mr. Tines had bowed his head and exited his personal stage. What I was able to glean from that amuse bouche was we, the audience, were in for a lovely night of heartfelt singing.
The next piece, Jesse Montgomery’s Starburst, opened with similarities to the string chords made famous in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, but with a more melodic and harmonious feel. As the piece moved forward a lovely little motif perked my ear up, a sound similar to raindrops falling.
Returning to his stage, Mr. Tines performed Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach. While the work was originally written for baritone solo and string quartet the piece was amplified to a larger string ensemble. With text by English poet Matthew Arnold, Tines was demonstrative in his delivery, but with the larger ensemble, this was a piece that maybe could have used a closer playing field to hear each other. To be fair, the piece was still haunting, I just feel it could have been tighter.
The Louisville Orchestra has been attentive to playing the music of living composers, and oft times the composers have come to bear witness to these performances. Caroline Shaw’s By and By borrows from American classics, such as bluegrass and spirituals. In Saturday evening’s performance, we listened to Ms. Shaw’s variations of familiar gospel songs I’ll Fly Away and O Death, both songs are given a mainstream renaissance in part to their use in the film “O Brother Where Art Thou”.
As I’ll Fly Away begins, a solo violin begins in an Aaron Copeland-like theme that the rest of the strings began to emulate and recite, fully melodic and connected. Towards the end of this section, the strings were able to mimic the sound of birds flapping their wings. Conversely, O Death begins with a cello plucking its strings, ushering Mr. Tines into his vocal line and as he does, the rest of the strings join in, enfolding the melodic line but allowing the talented soloist to have some free reign as it pertains to the pacing and entrances of the music, all while being guided, with slack, by Mr. Abrams.
In both segments of By and By, Mr. Tines sang with passion and animation. These pieces allowed for him to reach some of his highest highs, a lovely falsetto in I’ll Fly Away and then virtuoso Singspiel in O Death.
Perhaps the most awe-inspiring music of the evening was Davóne Tines’ own Vigil, co-written with colleagues Igee Diedonné and Matthew Aucoin. Vigil, written for strings and light percussion, is accentuated by keyboard with a glockenspiel sound and solo vocal. It composed in response to the passing of Breonna Taylor. The lyrics and phrasing that Mr. Tines brings to the piece are heart-wrenching and piercing. Dressed in white, the soloist kept Breonna close to his heart by wearing a brooch with her picture surrounded by rhinestones, pearls, and feathers. As the piece comes to a close, Mr. Tines looks into the camera and holds our gaze as we inhale his last notes and feel the power of the moment.
Closing the evening’s concert was the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, most commonly referred to as the Eroica. A storied symphony first written to honor Napoleon as his leadership turned into a dictatorship, Beethoven denounced him and his disapproval is oft-heard through the whole of the piece.
In the style of Leopold Stravinsky who would often shake up the more common layout of the orchestra, the strings were set up in the back, bringing the winds and woods to the front. This was done out of safety for everyone, including the addition of clear, plexiglass shields. Throughout the concert, those that were not using their mouth to play an instrument or sing were masked the whole time, including Mr. Abrams.
The fervor and anticipation of finally being on a stage and presenting to an audience were felt in the orchestra’s performance. The orchestra, on the whole, did a fabulous job with the Eroica, but I feel that the strings were too loud and many subtleties were lost in the other instruments.
Because this was broadcast many instruments were mic’d. Even our guest soloist, who is an opera singer, was mic’d, as I had mentioned before. While I know it needed to be done, especially in a hall that was not made for non-amplification, the sound was unbalanced and at times even undecipherable.
Throughout the evening, Teddy shared his feelings stating that music brings humans together; it is a communion, an essential need. While he misses seeing everyone in the audience, he was appreciative of the innovation to be able to share the stage’s talents with the world once more. At the end of the concert, there was a satisfaction similar to how one feels when seeing a concert, complete with the orchestra stomping and waving their bows in appreciation and accomplishment.
Before Mr. Abrams picked up his baton to conduct Eroica, he encouraged the audience, young and old alike, to get their quills out and write a poem using inspiration drawn from the evening’s concert. He even asked for the poems to be submitted to him and that he would read some of them at the next concert.
Strength in Music…. A Haiku
Where do we draw strength?
Nature, Family, Music.
Louisville Orchestra Virtual Experience – Beethoven’s Eroica
October 2, 2020
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.