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Monteux School for Conductors: Pops Concert July 29, 2012

July 30, 2012

The Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians is one place where those who aspire to conduct classical orchestras can learn their craft.  The school itself is tucked away in the hardwood forest in Hancock ME, and their concert hall resembles a converted barn some 35’ x 100’.  Inside the vaulted space, the green-stained pine of the bare sheathing of the walls and roof creates a simple, informal wooden soundbox to capture and amplify the music.  One third of the floor is taken by a raised stage holding the sixty members of the orchestra.  Folding chairs accommodate an audience of 260 in the remaining space.  As a result, there are four listeners to every instrument, and no one is farther than sixty feet from the stage.  For those who have come for the music, there are no bad seats.  Every one is right there in the midst of the sound.

The sessions are run for six weeks every summer, under the general command of Maestro Michael Jinbo, with concerts open to the public every Sunday.  “Symphonic Pops Concert” was the program for July 29, 2012, but the first half drew from classical sources conducted by graduating students of the summer session.  It is refreshing to see a number of female conductors among this season’s lineup, heading for (we hope)a greater visbility in the world of  classical music.

The first, Crown Imperial (Coronation March) (William Walton, originally composed for the coronation of England’s Edward VIII) was introduced with the remark that “It answers the question of why it is said that the sun never sets on the British Empire.”  As conducted  by Nathaniel Meyer with a “full-body contact” approach, it certainly came close.  Emmanuel Chabrier’s Espana Rhapsody for Orchestra sought to capture the essence of Andalusian culture—flamenco, a bullfight, a party in Seville—in music, a piece that conductor  Gabriela Mora-Fallas had danced to as a child and brought back to life with her graceful, refined style.  Tiffany Lu introduced Johann Strauss Jr.’s waltz Wine, Women and Song Opus 333 with a quotation from Martin Luther  “generally accepted as true:  ‘Whoever does not love wine, women, and song remains a fool his whole life long.’”  Lu’s varied style was well matched to the pieces reflective movements as well as graceful waltzes.  It was refreshing to see female conductors included in the lineup, on their way to greater visibility in the world of classical music.

Rhett Lei’s animated, angular conducting  of Ferde Grofe’s “On the Trail from Grand Canyon Suite” recreated in music the scene of a cowboy on a trail winding down into the Grand Canyon:  the violin’s whining bray of the donkey, the changing tempo of the donkey’s bad behavior, the musical crashing of waterfall and finally a quiet interlude when the cowboy reaches the cabin in the canyon.  The final piece of the first half, Rossini’s The William Tell Overture, was of course familiar to everyone.  Conductor Andreas Vogelsberger tried without success to restrain himself, his head bobbing furiously as the piece reached its glorious finale.  For this listener, it was the first time to have heard this piece in concert with a full orchestra.

The second half of the evening’s program included selections from Broadway hits—Fiddler on the Roof, Harry Potter Symphonic Suite, The Sound of Music—presented by more seasoned conductors.   The evening’s high point, Stephen Sondheim’s  Overture to Gypsy, came right after Intermission, “a perfect example of the golden age of Broadway Music.”   Conducting Associate William White introduced the piece, and himself, with a line from the musical:  “Mama Rose is the role I was born to play!”  And boy did it show!  He brought down the house with his wonderfully involved, animated interaction with his orchestra and the music.

The 2012 Summer Orchestra Season has already ended.  If you’re quick, you can still catch Ensemble Tremblay’s “Mozart at Monteux” (Mozart and Debussy) chamber season (  at the Monteux concert hall.  If you’ll be anywhere near Hancock, Maine next July, mark your calendar.  There will be more.

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