Igor Stravinsky


The Firebird

Louisville Orchestra
Teddy Abrams, conductor

Review by Annette Skaggs.

Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved

If Thursday night’s Music without Borders program, with every pew filled to capacity and beyond at St. Francis in the Fields, is an indication of how well the series will do, the Louisville Orchestra is doing something right in Community Outreach.

They were treated to works by composed by Liszt, Kodály, Zhurbin and Stravinsky. Of the four, Liszt, Kodály and Stravinsky are rooted in Hungarian and Russian music, both sacred and secular. As Teddy Abrams gave us a little history lesson, he pointed out that there is a good chance that any listener of classical music will be able to point out Russian or Hungarian Romantic era works because of their unique sound, usually involving more winds and brass, especially clarinet. This influence was not lost on Lev Zhurbin.  And so we were treated to pieces that relied heavily on the aforementioned instruments.

Let’s begin with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C minor. First arranged for piano then orchestra, one truly gets a feel for the rhythm of what is commonly thought of as Gypsy music, music of the common people. As there are 19 pieces in the whole Hungarian Rhapsody repertoire, No. 2 is best known, perhaps because of its use in pop culture by both Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny and Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse.

The piece begins slow and low with the melody alternating within the string section and woodwinds. As the clarinet soloist, Andrea Levine shines when the clarinet solos throughout the minor with major key lifts and trills. As the movement pushes forward to build up to a frenzied fast closing, I felt that the forte was a little rushed, but was quickly kept in control by the vigilance of Maestro Abrams. And boy did that control pay off! I was almost breathless watching the orchestra and Mr. Abrams fly through the end with ferocity and fun.

After a quick breather, let us move to Kodály’s Dances of Golánta. Admittedly, I was not familiar with this musical piece. Most of my knowledge of Kodály stems from the Kodály methodology of learning music; hand signs that represent notes. Dances of Golánta (a town that Kodály grew up in), is deeply rooted in the folksy sound of Hungary, emphasizing the clarinet and other winds and brass. To that end, I noticed during a rather strong oboe entrance that there was some hesitancy from that section. But to counter that, in what I believe is the second movement, there is a hauntingly beautiful woodwind/brass melody, and when the strings take over it seamless to a point where you weren’t sure when one instrument stopped and the other began.

Lev Zhurbin is a new kid on the block with his Klezmer Tanz Suite. If you are not familiar with Klezmer, it is a musical genre born from the Ashkenazi Jewish people of Eastern Europe. Although Klezmer is secular in nature, some of its influence came from synagogues and other Romani/gypsy traditional ceremonies. As with the other pieces, there was a focus on the use of clarinet and brass, especially in the second movement, where Ms. Levine’s quick noted solo was followed by a lovely trombone solo melody (sorry, I could not see who was the soloist at that time from my vantage point).  It was a very delightful piece, reminiscent of Old World Jewish traditions.

Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, composed in 1919 to be showcased in the famed Ballet Russes season in Paris, was based upon several Slavic fairy tales about the fabled half-woman/half fire-feathered aviator. Like Stravinsky’s other works for ballet you can definitely feel a rhythmic pulse for dancing in this Suite. Written in five movements, each with their own distinct sound and feel, they all blend into a beautiful, melodic ballad of good versus evil. Interspersed within come difficult technical challenges for the instrumentalists, such as keeping in tune with one another, in that there were a couple of times that the brass section seemed to have a diminished tone. Not to say because of where I was sitting that would have contributed to my perception, but because of the pianissimo of the movement, it very well could have been cause for less tonal preciseness; similarly with a violin tremolo at pianissimo.

But as we, in this community, are blessed with an orchestra of professional musicians, these small problems did not interfere with the grand scale of this fantastic work. I want to especially thank Teddy and his gang for the opening salvo of the second movement, which if you have not heard it before…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the visual of the entire audience’s reaction is something that I laughed at and applauded happily inside.

A fantastic night of Hungarian/Russian/Slavic dance and folk music interspersed with music history courtesy of Mr. Abrams. I’ll close with this bit of knowledge, Franz Liszt was considered to be a rock star, in so much that his fans suffered from “Lisztomania”.

Bravo Tutti

The Firebird

This program will be performed twice more:

October 24 2014 @ 7:30pm                                              October 25, 2014 @ 8:00pm

The Louisville Orchestra                                                    The Louisville Orchestra

Richard K. Stem Concert Hall                                           Congregation Adath Jeshurun
The Paul W. Ogle Center                                                    2401 Woodbourne Avenue
Indiana University Southeast                                            Louisville, KY 40205
4201 Grant Line Road                                                         Louisvilleorchestra.org
New Albany, IN


[box_light]uspsAnnette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, 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 Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts[/box_light]