Tuesday, May 24, 2005

DC Youth Orchestra And Junior Philharmonic

The DC Youth Orchestra and Junior Philharmonic gave a sterling concert Saturday at the University of the District of Columbia Auditorium. Together they represent more than 70 middle and high schools, both public and private, not only in Washington itself but spanning virtually the entire metropolitan area. DCYO director Lyn McLain, who founded the program nearly a half-century ago, remarked, "I have had the pleasure of seeing some of these students grow up and develop in this program from the age of 5, 6 and 7 years."

As the Junior Philharmonic (middle schoolers) quietly assembled on the stage for the opening piece, one listener was heard to exclaim, "My, the players are so little." Nevertheless, they gave a confident and poignant account of Gluck's Overture to "Iphigenia in Aulis," bows in every orchestral section in sync, all musicians immediately responsive to McLain's minutest gesture and, surprisingly for those so young, their intonation was relatively accurate.

The concert also featured two winners of the organization's annual Concerto Competition: flutist Krisztina Der and violinist Nick Montopoli, both accompanied by the Youth Orchestra (high schoolers). Der played Mozart's Rondo in D, K. 184, giving it a clean, full-bodied tone and fleet fingers for those ornate variations Mozart loved to indulge in. Balance with the orchestra, which gave her ample and skillful support, was fine, though marred briefly by Der's memory lapses. Montopoli approached the Allegro from Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor with no-fail agility, a superb sense of pitch and a sound at once sweet and gleaming. Again the orchestra carried its role with conviction, entrances sure and ensemble tight.

The program closed with the DCYO in Gershwin's "Cuban Overture," clearly too difficult for these young musicians.

-- Cecelia Porter

New Dominion Chorale

The New Dominion Chorale is hardly an elitist organization; it does not hold auditions but accepts anyone who wishes to sing. But there was an air of elitism about its "Opera Fest" program Sunday in the Schlesinger Auditorium of Northern Virginia Community College. The program's four soloists were regional finalists of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, young singers on a fast track to stardom. The program was made up largely of operatic top-40 material, solo and choral, and this crowd-pleasing mix of singers and program attracted a near-capacity audience.

The group opened with three choruses from Mozart's "Idomeneo" and also sang choruses from "Cavalleria Rusticana," "Prince Igor" (the Polovetsian Dances), "La Traviata," "Treemonisha" and "Die Fledermaus." Its most moving selection was "Va, pensiero," from Verdi's "Nabucco." Conductor Thomas Beveridge introduced this selection by explaining how this music helped inspire the Risorgimento movement for Italy's unification and describing the thousands of mourners who spontaneously sang it at Verdi's funeral procession.

The chorus's recruitment policies have resulted in an unbalanced ratio, with female singers outnumbering males by nearly 2 to 1, but the tone was smoothly balanced and blended. The soloists were all excellent, notably tenor Jose Sacin, who found the pathos in Lensky's aria from "Eugene Onegin" and the exuberance in the Brindisi from "La Traviata." In this he was joined by soprano Amanda Squitieri, who also brought down the house with the "Laughing Song" from "Die Fledermaus."

From the same opera, mezzo-soprano Leslie Mutchler gave a spectacular performance of Orlovsky's "Chacun a son gout" aria. She matched wits deftly with baritone Nemeh Azzam in "Dunque io son" from "The Barber of Seville." Earlier, he had brought the right swagger to the "Toreador Song" from "Carmen."

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