Thursday morning’s Treyton Oaks Tower Coffee Concert marked another in a continuing series of transitions faced by the Louisville Orchestra. January 31stwas the last day on the job for executive director Rob Birman, who led the institution through some of the most difficult times in its 75-year history. Birman’s four-year tenure ended quietly, as befit his personal style. Rob became the focal point for many people’s hope and other’s anger over the last couple of years, but the fact that I was able to be in Whitney Hall Thursday morning, listening to the musicians of the Louisville Orchestra perform the music of Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Strauss says all that need be said regarding his leadership.
Following a brief welcome by the sponsor, guest conductor Andrew Grams strode to the podium. Having barely reached center stage the brass sounded the famous downbeat of the overture Verdi’s 1869 opera La forza del destino. A compact man, Grams’s conducting style is conservative, measured and expressive as he led the orchestra in a tightly cohesive interpretation of this warhorse. Having completed the piece Grams briefly acknowledged the musicians and the applause of an appreciative audience as he retreated to the wings to prepare the next work.
Adele Anthony, guest violin
Following a brief interlude in which the stagehands reset for the concert’s centerpiece, the gorgeous Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, Grams returned accompanied by the soloist, Adele Anthony. In contrast to the muted tones of the orchestra and conductor Ms. Anthony’s floor-length gown of blood-orange color immediately drew the focus of the audience. Unlike many later concerti, Tchaikovsky’s is a true gift to the soloist allowing the opportunity to show all they have in terms of technical skill and musicality. Ms. Anthony did not disappoint on either score, although her interpretation was somewhat less fiery than her attire might have predicted and there was little that might be termed revelatory. Technically flawless, Ms. Anthony presented the work like an adoring mother offering her infant for praise. Maestro Grams and the orchestra matched the tone of Ms. Anthony’s vision admirably and the performance was enjoyable.
In spite of the fact that all three of the works on this week’s concert were composed within two decades, this is the first time the Louisville Orchestra performed R. Strauss’s first tone poem Aus Italien, Op. 16. Addressing these oversights has been a goal of music director Jorge Mester’s since his return. This musical travelogue of Strauss’s 1886 Italian holiday includes, by turns, reflections on the countryside, the ruins of Rome, Sorrento’s shore, and ironically the “folk life” of Naples. The composer famously committed a faux pasby incorporating into the fourth movement the ubiquitous Funiculì-Funiculà, which he mistook for an Italian folk tune. In fact Luigi Denza’s popular tune had been introduced only five years earlier. This work is more indicative of the composer’s early training than his more mature works and so far within the abilities of the orchestra that they were able to focus on bringing out the works subtleties of restatement and recapitulation. If there was little about this performance to bring the audience to their feet there was certainly nothing to detract from it.
As of today the Louisville Orchestra is in search of new leadership for the organization and a search for new artistic leadership may not be far behind. Despite his seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm and energy for this city Maestro Mester, 78, has reduced his obligations elsewhere in recent years. Might this concert have been an audition for Grams? His credentials are impressive, filled with international collaborations, and instruction at some of the finest schools. He has served as resident conductor of the Florida Orchestra and assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and is among the conductors being considered to lead the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. If he is a contender to eventually succeed maestro Mester I, for one, would like to see how he handles more challenging repertoire, especially works by twentieth-century and contemporary composers.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner