By WILLIAM AMORY
For Montclair Local
The Montclair Orchestra strode on the scene with a clear sense of purpose in its inaugural concert this past Sunday, Oct. 22, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Throughout the evening, the playing was incisive, lyric and expertly led by Maestro David Chan. The sold-out concert vibrated with the hopes and anticipation of many music lovers in the community.
The evening included the overture to “La Forza del Destino” by Giuseppe Verdi; Symphony No. 29 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler.
Chan introduced both the orchestra and the concert, “Operatic Connections,” as the coming together of past, present, and future, referring not just to the players, who assembled from the ranks of students, semi-professionals, and professionals, but also to the orchestra itself: an earlier Montclair Orchestra, he said, had combined with other groups to form the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. The 2017 Montclair Orchestra is a new beginning.
The theme of the concert was the lyric inspiration for instrumental music. Chan conducted the orchestra with an ear toward arching phrases, even while bringing out an astounding amount of musical detail in every instrumental line. The strings had beautifully articulated passagework, and the horns and woodwinds had strong attention to attack and balance.
The concert began with the overture to “La Forza del Destino,” by Giuseppe Verdi. Here the size of the orchestra, 75
strong, lent a grandeur to the swelling sounds of the opera themes. Chan let the climaxes build in a satisfying way, making a big, bold expression of Verdi’s dramatic arcs. Detail was pointed up when needed. At times, though, there could have been a bit more flexibility within the arching phrases to reach their most expressive, lyrical potential.
Mozart’s Symphony 29 was played with a joyous impetus that allowed the orchestra to find a sound somewhere between Romantic and Classical. Here again, the Montclair Orchestra revealed the detail as well as the sweep of the phrases, and their repeats, so they could come through transparently. At times, however, the repeats seemed to be too exact, missing the opportunity for the repeats to be part of a more nuanced call-and-response.
The playing in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony showed off the glow of his wind, string and percussion sonorities, and his melodic base of song. All were vividly sounded by the excellent musicians. The soprano soloist in the Mahler was Ying Fang, who sang radiantly even as she articulated the German text with an apparent understanding of not just the words, but also evincing a feel for the language. She sang with a rich, beautiful timbre and handled the tricky art of portraying a sense of innocence and a very particular framing of a text on Heaven with a seamless authority.
In the orchestra’s playing, the sweet songfulness of Mahler’s Fourth became a conversation among the instruments whose voices sang, always limpid, flowing as the human voice can in song.
Last night the Montclair Orchestra and the audience in St. Luke’s exuberantly inaugurated what I think all of us in attendance hope will be a lasting addition to the bedrock of the Montclair arts scene.