The Levine Chamber Orchestra, made up of faculty and advanced students from the Levine School of Music, gave a free concert Saturday night at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. The program will be repeated tonight in the school's auditorium at 2801 Upton St. NW. This 32-member ensemble is not the most prestigious of the dozen or more symphony orchestras performing in the Washington area, but it is well worth going to hear, for pure musical enjoyment and a view of the coming generation of musicians.
Recruited by auditions, it accepts only the best players from the school, which offers classes to students of all ages and levels of ability. The players range in age from 13 to adult, but nearly all seem to be of high school age. Under the direction of Charles Ellis, who is also the conductor of the Prince George's Philharmonic, they play at a near-professional level of maturity.
The program Saturday night included only two works, the youthful Little Suite, Op. 1 by Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) and the last symphony (No. 104) of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), commissioned for a concert series in London and named for that city.
Both works are good music for a small student orchestra. They have a structural clarity that helps inexperienced performers grasp the large formal designs of the music they are playing, and they require a level of performing technique that will make student musicians work hard but will also reward their efforts with instant musical satisfaction. Both are also well-calculated to give an audience instant, spontaneous enjoyment.
Nielsen's suite, written for strings, is bright, fluent, moderate in tempo and dynamics. It is richly endowed with pleasant melodies, dance rhythms and well-calculated contrasts. Like the Haydn symphony, it is essentially music for sophisticated entertainment, unpretentious and charming.
On Saturday evening, a few minutes were needed for the young players to get fully into the swing of the Nielsen suite, but they soon adjusted their ensemble playing, and the tone grew richer and more precise as their confidence and momentum built.
Haydn's symphony, like all 12 of the "London" group with which he ended his long symphonic career, is a showcase for the 18th-century orchestra, not only as an ensemble but as a collection of talented individuals.
For most of his career, Haydn was the resident composer and music director of the musical establishment at Esterhaza, the castle of a wealthy, music-loving Hungarian nobleman.
Haydn had, essentially, a private orchestra of his own, in residence with him like a family, and he developed a paternal feeling--affectionate and often playful--that can be heard in his orchestral music. He often gave delicious little solos to the more skilled players, and the whole texture of his symphonic writing reflects this special relationship with the orchestra.
His last symphony is richly varied in orchestration, transparent in sound, witty and urbane, and full of unexpected little tricks that appeal to young players as well as to audiences. These qualities were reflected in the student orchestra's performance, as well as a certain majesty in the introduction that may reflect the aged composer's feelings on his farewell to the symphonic form.
On Feb. 19, in Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, the Levine Chamber Orchestra will give a joint concert with the orchestra of the Longy School of Music, Boston.