It was a perfect Florida winter day for the Punta Gorda Symphony Presents From Bach to Broadway. It was about 80 degrees, low humidity, sunny, and a beautiful light breeze. As patrons assembled and musicians prepared for the concert, birds chirped, welcoming everyone from the gently swaying trees. The program began with a greeting and introduction from orchestra conductor and director Maestro Raffaele Livio Ponti. This event was held on the Florida Southwestern State College Charlotte Campus lawn by the auditorium.
Nice Jazz Festival
For a good reason: outdoor concerts are popular worldwide for all types of music and evoke fond memories for those fortunate enough to attend. One recalls the Woodstock Festival of 1969, the annual Nice Jazz Festival (France), or Vienna Philharmonic concerts at Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, which housed the summer residence of the Habsburgs. Schönbrunn means “beautiful spring.”
Orchestra concertmaster Ming Gao, fellow violinist Gregg Anderson, cellist Si-Cheng Liu, and pianist Charis Dimaras entered the stage platform to perform music arranged for a chamber music ensemble. Chamber music is unique and essential, and it intimately highlights the personalities and proficiency of the musicians while providing insightful musical experiences for musicians and audiences alike. Chamber music experiences serve musicians well, providing a venue to both showcase and hone their musical skills in an influential medium for musical expression where every nuance is articulated.
Reflect, for example, on the string quartet. This ensemble represents a harmonic microcosm of a full symphony orchestra performed by just four players: two violins, viola, and cello. It has been said that the string quartets of Beethoven form, using a biblical analogy, the “Old Testament,” while the string quartets of Bartok form the “New Testament” of quartets. Chamber music is mighty indeed.
Today, the audience was treated to a series of works spanning from the Renaissance to modern musical theater. An affable Ming Gao eloquently introduced each piece, describing its characteristics, features, and biographical context. He also drew amusing attention to things like the foot-long clothespins used to keep music safely on music stands, a necessary prop for breezy outdoor venues.
J. S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor
The first selection comprised two movements from J. S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043, the Vivace, and Allegro. Notably, during this era of composition, a movement of a musical work, as in the spirit of Affektenlehre, represents a singular human emotion. You may recall the work of René Descartes when, around 1650, he defined six primary affects expressed in art. They include admiration, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sorrow. In Bach, one certainly experienced admiration and joy.
The following work entitled Fandango is by contemporary American composer Michael Mclean. It began with the cello passionately setting the mood for the excitement of the famous fandango dance from Spain. This segued into the festive, triple-meter dance set in a classic style: one imagines castanets and guitars driving the rhythm and passion of the song.
Four Pieces for Two Violins and Piano
Gao noted that Dmitri Shostakovich’s work, Four Pieces for Two Violins and Piano, departs from what we generally expect from Shostakovich. Political and social theory has clearly played a dominant role in analyzing his work, and some describe his music as a chapter from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. He once stated, “I am a Soviet composer, and I see our epoch as something heroic, spirited, and joyous.” These pieces are a collection of music of film scores from about 1955. The music is gentle, romantic, Viennese, perhaps neo-classical, and seemingly out of character. But, as Tolstoy described the qualities of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (1937) in the daily newspaper Izvestia, he remarked on the composer’s notable “emancipation.”
Sarasate’s Navarra, op. 33 followed. This is a virtuosic work featuring the violins accompanied by the piano. The audience was treated to flying spiccatos, double and triple stops, tremolandos, left-hand pizzicatos, a duo cadenza, and ethereal harmonics. Exciting indeed!
Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Swan from his Carnival of the Animals featured cellist Si-Cheng Liu accompanied by pianist Charis Dimaras. The audience listened in rapt attention to the sublime beauty of this passionate, delightful work.
George Enescu’s Bohemian Rhapsody No. 1. ably conjured images of dances colored in the rustic ways of the peasantry with themes of a marked gypsy flavor in a heaving carrousel of rhythm. Genuine folk motives appear and reappear, and while he was a staunch nationalist, this music is his own, of a sensual character reflecting personal aesthetics rather than nationalism.
We end our musical journey at musical theatre with an enduring example of beloved music and drama, selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. This completed the program accentuated by a standing ovation leading to an encore of Americana variations that included the marvelous, pensive Ashokan Farewell composed by Jay Ungar (1982) and widely popularized as the title theme of the 1990 PBS television miniseries The Civil War by Ken Burns.
This was an enjoyable concert with diverse, exciting programming featuring key members of the Punta Gorda Symphony. Don’t wait to purchase tickets for upcoming events.
Runtime: About 60 minutes.
Punta Gorda Symphony Presents From Bach to Broadway
For more information and ticketing, visit www.PGSymphony.org, or call 941-205-5996.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Punta Gorda Symphony and Carnegie Hall, The Punta Gorda Symphony at the Charlotte PAC, and Behind The Notes with Maestro Raffaele Livio Ponti.
Sarasate Navarra Op.33 (Paul Huang, Danbi Um, Orion Weiss)