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Mozart (and others old and new) in the Woods: Monteux School, July 2015

July 16, 2015

Monteux 7.12.15
Classical music, chamber and orchestra, flutes and violins, a long and lovely sustain.
Big green barn, huge glass windows with the woods outside, birdsong, starlight.

Same time, same place. July 2015, the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Muscians in the hamlet of Hancock, Maine.

There is probably no place quite like this anywhere else in the world, likewise no musical experience to match its unique combination of the formal and the informal, of carefully formatted complex musical performance and the natural forested auditorium at the end of a gravel road. Not at the end of the world, mind you. The villages and the town of Ellsworth provide a potential audience of thousands within a half-hour’s drive. Many of whom could easily fill the 400 or so folding seats in this wonderfully intimate auditorium. Too bad for them, that they missed the absolutely stunning performances given at the most recent of the weekly edition of “Wednesdays at Monteux” July 15.

Unlike the Sunday Symphony Concerts with full 40-piece orchestra, Wednesday’s are smaller productions, solos and chamber ensembles. The music is chosen by the student performers themselves, ordered from the music lending library, rehearsed once or twice only, and then performed. So great is the professionalism on display here, one would not know just by watching and listening that these are “students” of the craft. Except perhaps by their youth and the exceptional vigor with which they approach their art.

Rather, attending one of the Monteux concerts is much like having a private concert for friends in your living room. With a program of the finest, most exciting compositions ever written over the span of centuries, put on by some of the most talented musicians you are ever likely to encounter in any concert hall, anywhere in the world. All in an unadorned auditorium where no member audience is farther from the conductor than fifty feet, where the movements and facial expressions of the musicians are in full view and close enough to read.

Last night’s program included six pieces spanning the centuries from Mozart to just-composed new work, no less than three of which earned standing ovations from an appreciative audience. Among these were Vivian Balzat’s violin suite “Archipelago Suite: The Kermadec Islands” performed by the virtuoso Allion Salvador, in its northern hemisphere premiere. The piece, evocative of these remote Pacific Islands, called to mind birdlife and haunting isolation, was so lovely I wished for a recording to listen again and again, so new there is none to be had. Yet. Salvador took the stage again, with violinist Christopher Kim and pianist Jonathan Spatola-Knoll, where the two violins practically set the stage on fire with the lightning stroke finger work demanded by Pablo de Sarasate’s “Navarra, Op. 33.”

The program included a Schulhoff “Concertino for Flute, Viola, and Contrabass,” Anthony Plog’s “Four Sketches for Brass Quintet,” Yiwen Shen’s “Four Chinese Brush Paintings” in its second-ever performance, each remarkable in its own right.

Aaron Copland’s “Suite from Appalachian Spring” in its original version for thirteen instruments closed the show. You may be familiar with this piece, but you will never have heard it quite so clearly and passionately as it was played last night. That final, fading note, filled the hall with its purity, and brought a tear to more than one eye with its stunning beauty. And when it had faded away the audience leapt to its feet for one final, thunderous ovation. All of this in a concert hall so small, so informal, that each and every note seems to be played for you alone.

There were too many empty seats last night. The hall fills to overflowing for the orchestra pops concerts where the music is familiar, but the real magic is to be found in the unfamiliar, the new, the seldom performed. The concerts at Monteux are unlike any to be witnessed anywhere. For those lucky enough to be in this part of Maine in the summer, they are not to be missed.

You have a few more opportunities to take in for 2015—Wednesday July 22, and Sundays July 19 and 26—and a whole season to plan for in the next. All concerts at 7:30 p.m.

Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians
2015 Schedule of Concerts
P. O. Box 457, Hancock ME 04640
Tel. 207-422-3280

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