Daniel W. Boothe Guest Conductor for Symphonicity
Fuchs, Korngold and Dvorák
Sandler Center, October 16, 2016
Review by John Campbell
Symphonicity opened its 36th season, titled “Quest for the Best,” in search of a new music director/conductor. Each of the season's programs will have a different conductor. The five finalists were chosen from 74 applicants for their education, experience, references, conducting videos and multiple interviews. The new director will be announced in May, 2017. Questionnaires at each program and feedback from mobile devices will be part of the decision.
Daniel W. Boothe, a native of Salisbury, Maryland, currently is conductor and public relations strategist for the premier U.S. Air Force Band and Orchestra in Washington, D.C. An award-winning conductor, he has produced, conducted or performed on radio, television and internet broadcasts that have reached an audience of 50 million people in 175 countries.
After the National Anthem Boothe recognized Music Director and Conductor Emeritus David S. Kunkel, who was in the audience. His presence elicited warm applause for his 35 years of leading the orchestra. Boothe's polished introduction for himself and composer Kenneth Fuchs' (b. 1956) concert overture, United Artists, included a brief video statement by Fuchs projected on the back wall of the stage before his piece was played. The melody had an oriental flavor and was very dramatic with the energy of a Coplanesque sunrise. There was colorful percussion, exuberant strings under concertmaster Megan Van Gomple and the youthful energy of a modern fanfare, all excellently played by our local volunteer orchestra. Fuchs was present to take a bow for the enthusiastic audience.
Guest soloist, violinist Janet Sung, a passionate champion of 21st century music, gave an impassioned performance of Violin Concerto in D Major (1945) by Eric Korngold (1897-1957). Korngold was a child prodigy with a successful opera, Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City, 1919-1920) which brought him world-wide renown by age 23 but his opulent style fell out of fashion except in Hollywood where he came in 1932. He was hired to write a film score arrangement of Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream for Max Reinhardt's film of the same name because Mendelssohn's music was banned in Nazi Germany. He stayed on and gave respectability for film composers as he composed music for many successful movies, 18 in all.
The first movement had a beautiful melody but the emotional feeling was one of yearning. There are pyrotechnic passages for the soloist that ascend upward. It reminded me of Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite: sunrise, on the trail, even the braying of the donkey, all with heavy percussion. The Romanza's lush melodies with flute and strings offered probing sadness, very Mahleresque. The lively hoedown-style theme of the final movement offered a rhythmic pattern reminiscent of the devil figure in Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat (Story of a Soldier)—colorful, edgy fiddling until the sound opens-up with the violin soloist highlighted by bell and big chords. Altogether the music is challenging for soloist and orchestra who gave a polished reading of music that had great surface appeal but was never joyous.
Boothe first heard Antonin Dvorák's (1841-1904) Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (From the New World) when he was 10 years old and decided at that moment to be a conductor. Dvorák visited the U.S. from 1892 to 1895, holding on to his European roots, he added on what he learned here. There are many fresh tunes and genuine excitement in the lively, intense first movement. The Largo, second movement offers slow-paced impassioned music of love. It was here in the “Going Home” theme that Boothe most impressed us with his steady control, reverential attitude and bringing-out the heart-rending beauty which offered a gift of love to each of us.
The lively Scherzo, third movement with gentle intermittent trios by the woodwinds, has a distinct old-world feel. The strident energy of the main theme finale was played in a grand fashion by horns and trumpets following a string introduction. Thoughtful clarinet solo lines offered a contrast. Previously heard themes were developed and a proclamation of the main theme was heard in the trombones before unison was achieved and overpowering chords brought it to an end.
Our goal is to hear all five conductors before we make our recommendation. The next concert, A Viewing, conducted by Timothy Verville, is on November 20, 2016.
Boothe Leads Symphonicity
Sandler Center, October 16, 2016
Review by Scott Strickland
When my friends John and Steve asked me to accompany them to a Symphonicity concert on October 16th and share my impressions with their subscribers I admit I was reluctant to do so. My musical background is that of a classical pianist and more recently as a bass with Virginia Symphony Chorus and thus I have enjoyed many hours of symphonic music but am certainly no music scholar. What piqued my interest most was that I hadn’t attended a Symphonicity concert in a few years and had not heard the group since it raised its game. I learned that this concert was the first in a series to feature a guest conductor who would be publicly auditioning for the position of Symphonicity Music Director. I read the bios of the five finalists— all impressive —so I was doubly curious.
After the Symphonicity patrons were recognized, Daniel W. Boothe, conductor for the U.S. Air Force Band, confidently strode onstage and introduced a short video narrated by the composer of the first piece, Kenneth Fuchs. Fuchs, a Grammy Award nominee, wrote United Artists in 2007. The composer explained that the piece was named for the entertainment studio founded by silent film stars in 1919 because they wanted to control their own interests. Boothe then enthusiastically conducted this high-energy piece which was strongly reminiscent of adventure film themes such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and could hold its own with any of them. When the piece concluded maestro Boothe surprised the audience by inviting Fuchs onstage to receive well-deserved kudos.
It was immediately apparent that this orchestra wasn’t the same one I had heard only a few years earlier. The precise tuning of the strings was the first improvement I noticed. According to John, new concertmaster Megan Van Gomple can take much of the credit. Also, the orchestra’s rhythm and timing were much cleaner and they produced a more unified sound. I often felt I was listening to Virginia Symphony—quite a feat for an all-volunteer ensemble. I began to wonder what Symphonicity could achieve with a professional core. Its future seems unbounded.
Next on the program was Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major featuring guest soloist Janet Sung. Sung, who made her debut at age nine with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, introduced herself and the piece by video. She came on stage wearing a beautiful slate blue gown. It may be expected of world-class soloists but I was impressed nonetheless that Sung was about to perform almost 30 minutes of difficult music without the aid of sheet music.
Unfamiliar with the Korngold work by name and seeing that it was composed in 1945 I feared it would be another modern, avant-garde piece I would be unable to relate to. To my surprise it sounded like it had been composed a century earlier with a distinct romantic flavor. All three movements contained lyrical melodies which were quite familiar. The lively third movement may have required the most virtuosity of the soloist but it was the more moderate first movement which was most challenging for the orchestra. It featured several rapid bursts of musical statements by the soloist which were echoed or answered by the orchestra. This was the only time during the piece that the orchestra seemed to struggle somewhat to match the soloist’s pace. This work also had the distinct feel of a movie theme. I later read that Korngold is considered one of the founders of film music and the Violin Concerto was the first work Korngold penned after a lengthy career composing for film.
After the intermission maestro Boothe shared some of his personal dreams and musical aspirations with the audience. He was personable, engaging and sincere and completely at ease speaking publicly. I feel he would make an outstanding spokesman for Symphonicity. Given his dual role as public affairs specialist for U.S. Air Force Bands I believe he would excel at community outreach and fundraising. He also has considerable experience as musical adjudicator which could serve to raise the bar on the orchestra’s technical proficiency. Given his range of talents, youth and energy I hope the Symphonicity board of directors will seriously consider his appointment as conductor.
Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” comprised the second half of the program. Boothe explained that this was the Czech composer’s tribute to America which blends sounds from the Old World with those from the New. All four movements are full of familiar melodies. The second Largo movement “steeped in the sorrow songs introduced to him by Harry T. Burleigh, was turned into an ersatz spiritual, Goin' Home, by Dvorák's student William Arms Fisher." The third Vivace movement contains an exciting ten-note motif familiar to most classical music lovers. It effectively uses timpani to convey an urgent, almost frenetic mood. Boothe instructed us to listen for the Jaws movie theme in the opening of the fiery fourth movement.
The conductor did an outstanding job conveying the wide range of emotions expressed in this eternal work. I was amazed how well the orchestra met its technical challenges. My afternoon with Symphonicity was delightful. I left Sandler Hall feeling both pride that my beloved home town could claim this talented ensemble as its own and excitement for its promising future.
Timothy Verville Conducts Symphonicity
Sandler Center, November 20, 2016
Review by John Campbell
Timothy Verville, the second of five conductors auditioning for new music director of Symphonicity, led an afternoon concert that included music by Daugherty, Rachmaninoff and and Mussorgsky/Ravel.
Each visiting conductor plans the program he will lead. Mr. Verville's title, “A Viewing,” with its several connotations, first offered viewing as at a funeral in the fourth movement Red Cape Tango from Metropolis Symphony (1988-1993) by Michael Daugherty (b. 1954). Using Superman, the icon of pop culture as the focus, Daugherty created an independent, imaginary musical world. The dance in Red Cape Tango is a dance of death based on the Medieval Latin hymn Dies Irae, after Superman was killed-off in a struggle to the death with fiendish super villain Doomsday (he was later revived in the ongoing Superman series). As this hymn of death became a tango we heard castanets, finger cymbals and string bass in a high energy, unique composition that did not sound like music by anyone else. Legato and staccato portions alternate as a giant image of a caped figure in black silhouette surrounded by red was projected above the orchestra. The augmented percussion throughout and the big, brash, noisy climax was exhilarating.
The hushed opening of The Isle of the Dead by Sergei Rachmaninoff was in great contrast to Red Cape Tango. Here the music was inspired by the composer's viewing of a painting—the work is titled “Symphonic Poem for Large Orchestra on the Painting by Arnold Bocklin.” The projected artwork featured a ghostly figure in a boat carrying a white-draped coffin to an island of carved rock cliffs and tall Italian cypresses that could be a natural grand mausoleum. Haunted by this mysterious image, Rachmaninoff said the music “came up within me.” The rocking movement of oars in water opens the mysterious Lento movement with low strings, tympani and harp. Tantalizing fragments played by woodwinds were like glimpses through the mist. A high, haunting violin theme was heard. As if the island came into view the music gathered direction and force and we heard the Dies Irae chant from a Gregorian Mass for the Dead. Suddenly the music was suffused with urgent, passionate life. It is joyous but again the Dies Irae theme rings out and the soft shadows return. The end is mostly quiet as we return to the sound of ceaseless rowing. Our musical journey was complete.
After intermission the theme of a viewing was completed when Mr. Verville conducted Pictures at an Exhibition with projected pictures by Mussorgsky's friend Victor Hartmann and others as the orchestra played Modest Mussorgsky's music. This use of technology combined with Mr. Verville's precise conducting brought to the audience a stunning example of what Virginia Beach's volunteer orchestra is capable of when given a challenge.
The music, originally written as piano pieces by Mussorgsky celebrating a friend's life, has quite a history. Hartmann was an undistinguished artist, architect and stage designer who died at age 39. Mussorgsky was a miserable, disorganized alcoholic who died at age 42. We know Hartmann's art only because of this music and we know the music only because it was orchestrated by others. We heard the enduring orchestration from 1922 by Maurice Ravel with his brilliant colors and sheer ingenuity.
The graphic sound illustrations of 10 named paintings begins with a majestic Promenade depicting gallery goers viewing the pictures. This theme recurs with different scoring several times between sections. The Gnomus is a painting of a grotesque nutcracker designed as a child's Christmas present, with music that has leaps, bizarre harmonies and slippery melodies. The doleful voice of the alto saxophone for The Old Castle is somber, not well-focused in music related to a Russian folk tune.
The somber solo tuba in Bydlo (Polish oxcart) is used to represent the cart and the tread of hooves. The light scherzo of The Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells was short but colorful. There were movements accompanying several darker subjects including catacombs, the dead and the Slavic witch Baba Yaga's house—on chicken legs! The work concludes with The Great Gate of Kiev, an orchestral spectacle with magnificent climaxes and pealing bells.
The orchestra players joined the audience in a rousing round of applause for Mr. Verville, stamping their feet and patting their chests for a conductor they greatly approved of. This afternoon of music left us with a warm feeling of confidence in the skill of Mr. Verville to preserve and enhance our community orchestra.