ISO Classical Series Program No. 1
Hilbert Circle Theatre
This is where I'm tempted to say to those Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra season regulars who stayed away in droves last Friday that they missed a good one. The season's first ISO classical series concert had less than half an audience - a mere shadow of the scads of people filling the Circle at the Schubert-themed opener a year ago. The reason certainly had nothing to do with the first solo appearance of ISO principal cellist Arkady Orlovsky since before Raymond Leppard's tenure as ISO music director. I think, regrettably, it came down to the choice of selections. Current music director Mario Venzago chose, from his point of view, a program of first-rate music, showcasing not only Orlovsky but many other ISO principals as well.
ISO principal cellist Arkady Orlovsky was a soloist in the first Classical Series program of the season.
However ... neither Leos Janácek's masterful Sinfonietta for orchestra nor Ernest Bloch's (1880-1959) haunting Schelomo, Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra are "household" works for symphony-goers. And though the concluding Schumann "Spring" Symphony might be, its patron-attraction potential just wasn't enough to override the other two. It appears that staying with mostly warhorses and/or big-name soloists to launch a 21-concert season, wherein you have plenty of later occasions to explore the backwaters, might have been the better approach.
That said, I must report that Venzago, making his first season appearance, delivered a lush performance of Sinfonietta. Cast in seven occasionally connected movements, the work represents a half-hour of post Dvorakian, semi-modernist writing filled with ravishing Slavonic color, supplemented by a phalanx of eight upper-stage trumpets for supplying fanfares. Though born only a dozen years after Dvorak, Janácek (1854-1928) quickly made his own distinct voice in delving into early 20th century styles which culminated, just two years before his death, in Sinfonietta.
Janácek has his way of fashioning all the orchestral ensembles into distinctive displays while showing off their players in the bargain. From the piccolo to the harp to a chorus of flutes to the on-stage brass, it was democracy-in-action for nostalgic orchestral colors. And for lovely singing lines as well. The eight upper-stage trumpets - free-lance extras hired for this performance - lent their collective voice at the work's beginning and end, and did so with crisp precision.
Orlovsky's solo-cello appearance in Schelomo marks his second ISO performance of that 1915 work: His first, and the orchestra's last previous, was with ISO music director John Nelson in 1980 - 25 years ago. And in that interval, Orlovsky appears to have lost none of his suave bowing and his tonal command of his instrument. In contrast with the extroverted Janácek work, Schelomo, written for smaller forces, is inward looking and projects an often unyielding, smile-through-tears wistfulness.
Orlovsky's solo work, often underplayed but always heard above the orchestra, provided the right atmosphere for this heavily harmonized - yet often open-intervallic - paean to a people often historically oppressed. The work certainly connected with what audience was there, Orlovsky receiving an extended standing ovation.
Schumann's Symphony No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 38 ("Spring") is the first of the composer's four numbered symphonies - all of them, interpretively speaking, Venzago specialties. Since making his ISO debut in the fall of 2001 (during the orchestra's conductor search) playing Schumann's D Minor Symphony (No. 4), Venzago's control of his players during his Schumann-esque "interpretive" escapades has taken a quantum leap upward, making his approach to this highly neurotic German early Romantic far more convincing than during that debut performance. Venzago still has a way to go to make his Schumann completely gell, as a keyboardist can "control" the composer's piano music with his 10 fingers. But our firmly ensconced music director is taking resolute steps to get there.