The Montclair Orchestra Regales Audience with Two “Reinvented” Ballets

In these uncertain times, there’s one sure thing. David Chan, music director of The Montclair Orchestra, will always take you on a symphonic adventure. In February, his orchestra surprised its audience with a love song by Richard Wagner, master of the epic opera. Sunday afternoon The Montclair Orchestra took the audience on a whimsical music journey with ballets by Igor Stravinsky and Rodion Shchedrin.

The afternoon began with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella from 1920. The opera was based on 18th-century manuscripts originally attributed to Giovanni Pergolesi, but later credited to Domenico Gallo and other composers. Pulcinella is closer to a traditional opera (think Mozart or Verdi) with some of Stravinsky’s signature rhythms and harmonies.

The orchestra performed an uncommon version of this romantic comedy about an actor. The 40-minute ballet featured 20 sections with arias sung by a tenor, mezzo-soprano and bass vocalists — Ian Koziara, Emily D’Angelo and David Leigh respectively. They sang beautifully from lyrics that had nothing to do with the ballet. Who said Stravinsky didn’t have a sense of humor?

Following the intermission, the second part of the afternoon featured another ballet, Carmen Suite, riffing on Bizet’s Carmen. Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin wrote this 1967 piece for his wife, a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Rather than recreate the entire opera, Shchedrin uses Bizet’s work and mixes in his own work with other pieces by Bizet.

The unique part of this performance was that it included five percussionists bouncing among 24 instrumentals, including timpani, cymbals, triangle, bass drum, tom-tom, hi-hat, tam-tam, temple blocks, guiro (a gourd instrument), whip, maracas, crotales, claves, wood blocks, a tambourine and, of course, a cow bell. Chan explained what several of the more novel percussion instruments were.

The Montclair Orchestra makes the classics and neoclassics accessible to old and new fans of those genres. The performances are always stimulating. During the event a girl of maybe six or seven was in the front row emulating Mr. Chan as he directed the orchestra. Let’s hope the Montclair Orchestra is sowing the seeds of music appreciation for the next generation.

Montclair Orchestra’s final concert of its inaugural season is Tour of Colors, May 13, 7 p.m., at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Montclair, featuring Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin; Tchaikovsky: “Mozartiana” Suite; Mozart: Serenata Notturna; and Milhaud: Le bœuf sur le toit. Don’t miss out – Get tickets now.

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