Monday, May 23, 2022

concert review: Winchester Orchestra

This was the concert that this volunteer orchestra had originally scheduled for March, when B. signed up to play second violin in time for rehearsals, inspired by the chance to play in that ultimate monument of orchestral music, Beethoven's Fifth.

But then they replaced it with an all-strings program so that everyone could be masked during the omicron wave, and after playing in that concert B. decided not to continue with Winchester - the practice involved was too demanding for her - and so this dream concert went on without her. I decided to attend and hear how they did. The venue was the same Mennonite church as last time.

I am pleased to say that, under music director Scott Seaton (who carried a baton this time), it was a thoroughly righteous Beethoven Fifth. It carried both drama and subtlety of expression, and if the tuttis were somewhat raw, there were some lovely displays of individual sections, especially in the slow movement. Very pleasing.

Smetana's Moldau is a piece that our classical radio station plays about once a day, it seems, but I rarely hear it in concert. This, under assistant conductor Jevon Gegg-Mitchell, came out nicely, with an appropriate 'snap' in the country-dance section and big swells near the finish.

Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, under Seaton, was a bit more problematic, but only because it's not such a masterwork as the other two. Both the orchestral musicians and the solo violinist (Julian Brown, whom I last heard in a series of local concerts doing the whole sequence of Beethoven violin sonatas) had sure command over their parts, but Bruch's heavy and clotted orchestration resulted in a lot of blatting from the ensemble.

Before the performance, the principal trombonist stood up and gave a sad little talk announcing the recent death of Henry Mollicone, the orchestra's founder and first music director. It was originally formed, we learned, out of the community members of the Santa Clara University orchestra after SCU decided it wanted to have campus people only.

It may be overkill to criticize the volunteer ticket-desk people of a volunteer orchestra, but I do wish they'd decide who they're going to direct their attention to next and then finish the transaction with that person before turning their attention to something else.

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