Montclair Orchestra Surprises Audience With Study In Contrasts

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David Chan, Montclair Orchestra music director, surprised his audience Sunday afternoon.

The program featured a lyrical and intimate piece by Richard Wagner, master of epic music dramas; an intense and dissonant piece by Dmitri Shostakovich, known for his tonality; and a riff on Igor Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale” by Jazz master Wynton Marsalis.

That was all part of his plan.

Chan started the concert by launching into Wagner’s Siegfried-Idyll with a 13-piece ensemble. The piece was composed by Wagner as a birthday present to his second wife Cosima after the birth of their son Siegfried. The ensemble included flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. The piece was enchanting. The viola, violins and cello sang softly, gently buttressed by the double bass. The brief flute solos were reminiscent of birds.

After that performance, Chan shared his rationale for the concert’s theme of contrasts. Aside from being three vastly different pieces, the works also were characterized by attributes you wouldn’t expect from their composers.

The next performance was Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, written while one of the 20th century’s greatest composers was a student at the Leningrad Conservatory. Chan put down his baton and joined the small string ensemble with his violin. The energetic piece was a wild ride. It soared and shrieked. You could hear Stravinsky’s influence. Aurora Mendez, a student at Montclair State University, performed in the string ensemble.

After a brief intermission, the concert concluded with Wynton Marsalis’s tale of a fiddler who sells her soul to the devil. Narrated by guest performer Melissa Walker, founder & president of Montclair’s Jazz House Kids program. The part of Beelzebub was played by Robert Feinberg, founder & chairman of Montclair Film. The fiddler, Beatrice Simmons, was played by Marsha Mercant, actor, signer and author. The hour-long performance was poetic and included a range of American Music from the 20th century.

Contrasts succeeded in showing us different sides of these virtuosi.

The next Montclair Orchestra Performances include a free performance of Haydn – String Quartet in F Minor (Op. 20 No. 5) and Dvorak – String Quartet in G Major (Op. 77) by the Montclair Orchestra Chamber Players on March 4, 2 p.m. at Van Vleck House & Gardens. The Orchestra will also perform Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite on March 25, 5 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium, MSU. For more information go to www.montclairorchestra.org or call 973-435-2906.

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