It has been over a year since I saw this small community group that plays in the Alice Millar Chapel on the Northwestern University campus. They've clearly been busy and it shows in the general improvement in the playing.
Of note is the addition of Rachel Taylor as Concertmaster. Ms. Taylor adds strong leadership to the strings and to the violins in particular. Alas, despite the significant improvement, NSCO violins still have a way to go. Some section members still struggle to get the notes out, let alone in tune. Given the improvements Ms. Taylor has made to date, it might not be too much to expect even better future performances.
Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor, J.S. Bach BWV 1052
Harpsichord soloist Robert McConnell delivered this venerable Bach work with journeyman skill and sensitivity. There were some problems with the high strings, as noted earlier, that tended to detract from the overall performance. However, Bach being what it is, it is difficult to find a lot of fault with a harpsichord well-played.
Twelve Kontretanzen, L. van Beethoven WoO 14
This charming set of country dances is always a welcome addition to a program. Listeners will recognize at least one familiar theme used by Beethoven in other works: both The Creatures of Prometheus and the Eroica symphony echo the theme of the seventh dance. This is not particularly deep, serious or profound music, but rather a light recapitulation of life in the country, where the press of city and town life melts away into the joys of light-hearted social activity.
Carinhoso, Pixinguinha and Jao de Barros (arr. Marcio Modesto)
This short piece in the chorro style of early 20th century Brazil featured the winds of the North Shore Chamber Orchestra. The piece itself is marked by the dissonances so typical of 20th century music, but the overall feeling is one of urban excitement and sophistication.
Mother Goose Suite, Maurice Ravel
Ravel's genius is clearly evident in this orchestration of his original piano for four hands composition. The North Shore Chamber Orchestra winds and percussion were clearly up for the task, and the incredible blending of strings, winds and percussion filled the hall with a delightful clarity and beauty. Of particular note was the addition of harpist Sarah Thompson whose smooth glissandos and well-blended accompaniments added much to the performance.
This performance was conducted by Sandra Cintra Gebram, a Master's student in conducting at Northwestern University. Her background in conducting extends to both South America and Europe as well as the United States. Ms. Gebram's command of the techniques of the art form were excellent and she maintained excellent control of her musicians at all times. Interpretations were good, especially given the occasional difficulties of the musicians in executing the printed scores. Overall, Ms. Gebram got the most from her resources, something any conductor would be pleased to accomplish.
The North Shore Chamber Orchestra was founded by Harvey Treger, who remains its President. In fact, Treger never seems to tire of exhibiting what in the nonprofit world is referred to as "founder's syndrome". He places his own name prominently at the top of the front cover of the program, and again on the front conver when he lists the Board of Directors. He even devotes a full half-page on the interior of the program to one of his own quotations. During the concert he speaks frequently although mercifully, his comments are generally short.
Mr. Treger would serve his audiences better were he to substitute more music and music education for his own wanderings, which tend to contribute only little to the experience and take up valuable space in the program that might be better used for other purposes.
This particular performance had an audience of about sixty-five. This is a significant increase over the last time I attended a performance of this orchestra, and seems to indicate that they are doing something right if they are now able to attract that many patrons. At $10 admission for adults and free admission for children, it is a good family outing and an excellent way to introduce children to music. Despite this attempt to lure families, there seemed to be none in the audience at this performance. There were plenty of elderly, however, including two elderly women who sat nearby talking nonstop for most of the concert. While one might expect a little disturbance from children and even welcome it as a sign of excitement over the musical experience, the same behavior by adults is clearly simply rude and unacceptable.
The next North Shore Chamber concert is on October 4, 2009. It certainly merits a date on anyone's calendar who is seeking a way to spend a chilly Fall afternoon in the warmth of the spectacular Alice Millar Chapel listening to what is steadily becoming a more polished and professional organization.