By WILLIAM AMORY
For Montclair Local
Sunday’s opening concert of Montclair Orchestra’s 2018-2019 season, “A Shakespeare Evening,” treated the capacity audience at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church to something new: music inspired by William Shakespeare’s plays, interwoven with Shakespeare’s words themselves. “A Shakespeare Evening” succeeded richly — the non-verbal eloquence of the music poured into the verbal Shakespeare, and back again, both modes of expression leading the audience through a deep Shakespearean experience. The concert included scenes performed by actors with scripts in hand, and music related to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream;” “Much Ado about Nothing,” “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
The character of Oberon opened the concert in a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Here Oberon, played by Geoffrey Owens, instructs Puck, played by Colin Ryan, to do his work in magically charming Demetrius, a non-loving lover. It was a perfect set-up for the magic of the music ahead, Then Bottom, transformed to a donkey, played by Aaron Drill, who has become the love object of fairy queen Titania, played by Sophia Seidenberg. Owens and Ryan are both working actors, while Drill and Seidenberg are recent alumni of Montclair High’s School of Visual and Performing Arts.
Then came the related music, Felix Mendelssohn’s “Overture” and “Nocturne” for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” These pieces are relatively familiar to many music lovers, but this performance beautifully introduced them to those that hadn’t heard them. The performances enfolded listeners in the a dream of midsummer, communicated through Shakespeare, through Mendelssohn, then through conductor David Chan and his fervent, accurate, but never dry, players.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
The next play in “A Shakespeare Evening” “Much Ado about Nothing,” with crosstalk between Beatrice and Benedick, played by professional Pamela Kahl and Drill. Unfortunately, the actors were not uniform in being able to project their voices and words from their position behind the orchestra, so some of their verbal fireworks were lost.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s vivid “Much Ado About Nothing” suite was a revelation in its kinship with tonight’s Mendelssohn’s work. It seemed as if both composers’ inspiration, of course arising from the same playwright, resulted in a similarly colorful, richly dramatized soundscape. In addition, Chan had programmed a beautiful viola-cello duet, transcendentally played by Dov Scheindlin on viola and Joel Noyes on cello.
The three witches of “Macbeth” arrived after intermission, played by Seidenberg, SVPA alumna Vivian Belosky and Kahl, the three weaving like a baleful braid down the center aisle. There they hovered, allowing the audience to eavesdrop on their excellently creepy “Double, double, toil and trouble” scene.
This led into Verdi’s prelude to his opera “Macbeth,” which was excitingly and incisively played by the orchestra. More riveting still was Verdi’s ballet music for “Macbeth,” which was so fervently entered into by the players, both in drama and lyricism, that all the colors and excitement of the entire drama of the Scottish Play were delivered in this piece for ballet. A special bravo to the brass!
ROMEO AND JULIET
Next appeared Juliet, played by Vivian Belosky, speaking from her balcony, played on the evening by the lofty pulpit of St. Luke’s. Romeo, played by Drill, was below. They were two very believable star-crossed young lovers. Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” followed.
The orchestra had wonderfully exciting rhythmic energy and speed.l
Overall, however, the next time a collaboration with actors is programmed, more resources could be devoted to staging. Lines were often unintelligible, even from the sixth row: speaking straight out to the audience, as opera singers are taught to do, would have helped a lot. And to be commensurate with the high professional standards of the orchestra, actors should have lines memorized rather than reading from scripts.
Acoustics were not always balanced; when the brass was playing with abandon, it was hard to hear the strings. When the melody was in the brass, this effect was glorious in its flood of sound, but the acoustics of St. Luke’s are not always favorable to a good orchestral balance. IIn Sunday’s concert, the abandon and lyric sweep of the playing compensated for some imbalance This is one reason Chan is so effective as a conductor: his obvious concern for detail and precision never obviates sweep and passion.
“A Shakespeare Evening” centered on story. All the colors, all the humanity, love, magic, sweetness, and yes, death, in Shakespeare’s stories were heard and felt in the music and the scenes. Montclair Orchestra has brought a collaborative spirit into their performances. By adding this collaboration to its mission to help prepare young players for future careers, Montclair Orchestra’s collaborative concert took an important step forward for the arts in our community.