Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates Mozart’s legacy
By Pat Suarez
Photo: Violinist and concertmaster Jessica Hung; photo: Scott Kimmins
Almost a decade ago, I invited a friend to a Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra performance of Gustav Mahler’s dense and thrilling Symphony No. 6. My friend had a long history of performance of classical music with a mid-major orchestra, so knowing nothing about the DPO or Music Director Neal Gittleman, her expectations were set at a certain level. At the end of the performance, she was stunned, vigorously applauding an experience for which she had not prepared herself. Not normally given to hyperbole, she finally said, “Wow, those people are good!”
Forty years ago, that would not have been the case. But, over the decades, the technical expertise and, maybe more importantly, the interpretive skills of orchestras such as the DPO have elevated to the point where you can hear a first-class presentation, in a world-class symphony hall, in a city that doesn’t have a population of a million-and-a-half or more.
Today, the DPO is able to offer performances that used to be the norm in Cleveland, Chicago or Philadelphia so many years ago and, as in any orchestra, the principal player sets each section’s standard of performance. Three of those principals will be showcased in a concert series titled Mozart’s Legacy, set for Friday, March 28 and Saturday, March 29 at the Schuster Performing Arts Center.
In the first half of each concert, Mozart is front and center, with his Symphony No. 31 in D and his Violin Concerto No. 1 B-flat major. The soloist for the Mozart concerto will be DPO Concertmaster Jessica Hung.
It’s difficult to gauge just how talented this orchestra’s concertmaster is. At just 25, she is the orchestra’s floor leader. To be that young and occupy that chair is extraordinary. To sit in that chair, one must be a wizard on the violin, a mentor, disciplinarian, friend and field general. Hung is all that and more. She has played with the orchestras in Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. She has been a section leader in university orchestras and assistant concertmaster with the Akron Symphony Orchestra. However, it’s her depth of understanding of the music she plays that is even more profound and that is why she is so valuable to the players around her. That depth is practically unheard of in a 25-year-old. Hung will play Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1, written when Mozart was in his late teens, so youth will be decidedly served well. The young Hung echoed her enthusiasm for Mozart’s work.
“What makes this concerto stand out is also my favorite aspect of the work: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat major was written in 1773, when the composer was just 17!” she said. “As such, there is a remarkable sense of freshness, youthful optimism and unsinkable joie de vivre throughout the piece. The notes seem to burst off of the page or out of the orchestra and solo violin with adolescent exuberance and energy, yet at the same time, every phrase is as refined and polished as crystal clear glass.”
The concert opens with Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D, often called the “Paris” symphony, because that’s where Mozart was when he composed it. The symphony was a hit, receiving performances back in Vienna after those in France.
Its structure was unusual – just three movements. But what Mozart lacked in movements, he made up for with players. For its time, this was a large ensemble: 13 players in the winds, brass and percussion, plus a full complement of strings. This work is short – just 17 minutes – and does well as an extended overture.
Here’s a brief look at this popular symphony:
First movement: Jaunty, driven, with forward propulsion to burn and a bounce to the strings, with a dash of drama. Close your eyes and this movement is a joy of spring, with Maestro Gittleman pulling us out of the gloom, cold and 50 inches of snow.
Second movement: Stately, with the lilt and rhythm of a sublime dance. This movement is the musical incarnation of the stereotypical formal ballrooms depicted in countless movies set in the 18th century.
Third movement: The buzzing of bees in the strings, then the kinetic energy kicks in. If locomotives could sprint, this movement is what they’d sound like.
After intermission, Sheridan Currie, the DPO’s principal viola and Andra Lunde Padrichelli, principal cello, join a large ensemble for one of Richard Strauss’ crowning achievements, a set of theme and 10 variations for viola, cello and orchestra based on one of Europe’s most influential literary works, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote is the story of madness, chivalry and finally returning to reality. Strauss, no stranger to setting literature to music, endowed “Don Quixote” with some of the most radiant music in his entire output. It is, at turns, glowing, playful, lofty, turbulent and humorous (sheep bleating – the horns and wind swirling – the strings).
Sheridan Janette Kamberger Currie, principal viola, has won first prize at several competitions. She began her musical training at age nine. Skilled in both the orchestral and chamber world, Currie has soloed for orchestras for nearly 20 years. She earned her Bachelor’s of Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, followed by studies at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.
“In characterizing Sancho Panza through the viola, I am fortunate, that Strauss has done so much of the work for me already,” Currie said. “He paints a vivid musical picture of a folksy, verbose, slightly-ADHD Sancho. In performing that role, I strive to channel my inner John Candy – think Dell Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with his many unsolicited words of wisdom.”
Currie is a huge proponent of chamber music and was a member of the Lake String Quartet, performing each summer at the Yellowstone National Park. She is a founding member of the Masala String Quartet, which has recorded professionally and given world premieres of chamber works.
Andra Lunde Padrichelli, principal cello, has also won first prize at several competitions. At home in both chamber and orchestral music, she has studied with and performed with leading cellists and conductors, including Janos Starker, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Michael Tilson Thomas. Her solos have been in Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Florida, California, Boston and Spoleto, Italy.
Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present Mozart’s Legacy at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 28 and Saturday, March 29 in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. For more information, please call 937.224.3521 visit daytonperformingarts.org.
Reach DCP theatre critic Pat Suarez at PatSuarez@DaytonCityPaper.com.