Coping with crisisIn late October, when signing up for concerts to review in November, I saw posted in CVNC an actual live concert I could attend on November 8. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to hear music in person. A small audience was to be present, but most would see the event by digital viewing online. Later, when trying to get my ticket, turns out there wasn’t going to be a live concert after all; I learned that there would be a release of the video on December 5, and I’d get access before then to write the review. As the time approached, this was not possible, and so I waited until Saturday evening with everyone else to tune in. Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle (COT) is doing its best under difficult circumstances, but clearly the process is still being developed. I trust that next time, there will be better organization and a smoother process gained by experience.

It is an unavoidable reality that the whole reason for COT and all other musical ensembles to exist is for live performances. Anyone can watch YouTube videos of high quality of all the music on this program for free, anytime they want. Online offerings exist to keep the orchestra afloat until we can have concerts, in person and fully attended. This recording was made possible by generous donations from the Horst and Ruth Mary Meyer Endowment, Chris and Simone Meyer, Mac Mellor, and David Lindquist. The production value was broadcast quality and entirely professional, which is not cheap.

Concerts like this are not broadcast on any television channel, as may have happened 60 years ago. The problem is that classical music concerts make terrible television. It’s visually static in a medium that requires action to fill the screen. For a limited number of people enjoying subsidized tickets, live performances are interesting, vital, and engaging enough to keep the art alive; but watching it on a computer or TV – ? This loses out to any game show or movie. Even MTV found that its music videos, all designed with maximum visual impact, simply couldn’t compete with reality TV. How much more difficult with classical music, with its singular avoidance of laser light shows and smoke! Not a single musician in this concert pulled out a pistol, blew up a car, dropped an F-bomb, or showed leg and cleavage. (There was some swimming in German blood, but I’ll get to that later.) And while the wind players and singer had no masks, everyone else did, which neutered some of the visual interest in watching them play. And I say that while having decidedly negative feelings about musicians who grimace… – but that’s for another review. Thankfully, this didn’t happen tonight! At least I don’t think so. Who knows?

But this is what is possible, and it does keep things going in this Great Artistic Depression we may find ourselves in for some time to come. So more power to them!

For your convenience, click here for the concert’s program. The chamber orchestra had six violins, two each violas and cellos, and one bass, bassoon, and harpsichord. These were joined as needed by oboe, flute, and soprano. Truth be told, I never actually heard the harpsichord or bassoon, but maybe that was just my ears. See if you can detect them. Homework!

The first two pieces were concerti grossi by G. F. Handel, the first being Concerto Grosso in G, Op. 3, No. 3. This included oboist Anna Lampidis, who did an extraordinarily expressive job throughout the concert. Quite frankly, I could listen to her all day. Also, in the first movement only, was flutist Jill Muti. Next was Concerto Grosso in C, “Alexander’s Feast”, composed years later and this time on purpose. The first concerto was cobbled together by a publisher to cash in after Corelli’s success with his concerti grossi, and after Handel’s also made some hay, they were produced on purpose. (Sometimes composition is a lot like making sausage.) This had just strings and continuo.

After an interesting discussion with Lampidis, we were treated to Tomaso Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in B-flat, Op. 7, No. 3, a charming and cheerful short work (about eight minutes), one of a set of four concerti. So glad this wasn’t among his many scores lost in Dresden’s immolation. All three of these pieces were conducted by Niccoló Muti.

There followed a discussion between Jung-Min Lee of Duke University and the soprano soloist, the extraordinary Molly Quinn. Those who tuned in to Duke’s Messiah webcast on December 6th would have heard her as the soprano there also, and what pipes she has! Very impressive. She was featured in J.S. Bach’s Cantata 199, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut. And yes, this is unbelievably German. The translation of the eight sections is as follows:

1. My heart swims in blood

2. Silent sighs, silent lamentations

3. But God must be gracious to me

4. Bowed down low and full of remorse

5. To this painful affection

6. Me, your sad child

7. I lay myself in these wounds

8. How happy is my heart

Kind of like that Teutonic video game, Painstation. But like many dark works, the ending is uplifting, and you know, gets you to thinking, even in times of sickness and death, hey, things could be worse. This, and the following work, were conducted by Lorenzo Muti.

Next, orchestra president David Lindquist spoke about the great contributions to culture and the local musical scene by Horst and Ruth Mary Meyer, to whom this concert is dedicated. Horst Meyer was a professor of physics at Duke who passed away in 2016 after an extraordinary life.

The finale for the show was Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op. 3, No. 11 from L’Estro armónico for 2 violins, cello, and orchestra. It was L’Estro armónico that brought Vivaldi recognition in his lifetime, and influenced other composers throughout Europe.

As mentioned, the production values here were very high, and I enjoyed the video. Let’s hope they sell many tickets to support the cause. We need the COT to survive until we see the back of this plague. Until then, music for small ensembles will have a field day.