NJ Festival Orchestra’s ‘Moonlit Serenades’ Thrills Audience

 

By SUSAN MYRILL DOUGHERTY
For The Westfield Leader

WESTFIELD — The crisp autumn air nipped at our noses on Saturday evening, but no one seemed to mind because the splendid music of the New Jersey Festival Orchestra (NJFO) filled the air and warmed hearts. Special guest artist Ana Vidovic, one of the top ten classical guitarists in the world, added an international zest to the outdoor event.

Setting the tempo and ambiance for the night, the orchestra opened with the lively “Slavonic Dances Op.46, No. 8” by Antonin Dvorak. One could envision gypsy girls dancing and twirling to the music in colorful dresses. At this, the fourth outdoor concert for NJFO, Music Director and Conductor David Wroe teased the audience with a promise of more outdoor concerts to come in the spring. The 30 members of the orchestra accompanied the classical guitarist for the second selection, “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo that included Allegro con spirito in D major, Adagio in B minor, and Allegro gentile in D major. According to the thorough program notes written by Yifei Xu, in times past, “The main concern is that the tranquil timbre of guitar may not be able to battle with the sound of the orchestra. It needs special care to balance the texture between the guitar soloist and the orchestra.” No problem at this night’s offering because impeccable sound design afforded the right balance so that each note of the virtuoso could be appreciated.

When the Croatian-born Ms. Vidovic swept onto the stage in an electric blue outfit, the tension of expectation soared. She didn’t disappoint. The crickets themselves seemed to pause in anticipation, as the guitarist’s fingers strummed, plucked, and caressed the strings. Never since seeing Andres Segovia at Town Hall in NYC back in the 1970s have I heard such artistry and passion for the music by a classical guitarist. For many, her music transported us back to Spain. The orchestra’s refrains echoed her melodies. In the second portion of the Rodrigo piece, the oboe duet with the guitar was breathtaking. It was indeed a haunting serenade. One could easily get lost in the beauty of the tone of the instruments and the artistry expressed.

The second half of the program was the Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K 550, with four segments: Molto allegro, Andante, Menuetto, Allegretto, and Finale, Allegro assai. The audience, on the lawn at the Hertell gardens on East Dudley, was so appreciative of each movement, they threw all concert etiquette to the wind and applauded soundly between each one. But who can contain joy at hearing such precision and passion in a concert? Ms. Xu’s program notes explain the plaintive tone of the symphony in a minor key, a key that denotes tragedy: “It is one of the last three symphonies Mozart composed in his late years.” She illuminated that Mozart’s depressed state of mind is seen in this piece for, when at only 32-years-of age, his wife was ill, his own health was failing, his Don Giovanni was not received in the way he hoped, and his six-month-old daughter had died. The symphony shows the gut-wrenching agony he was experiencing at the time.

At the helm of the magnificent music machine that brought Mozart’s music of the page to life is the inimitable David Wroe who, by himself, is visual entertainment. He is the consummate conductor whose body language demands precision from the performers with the energy he displays. For those of us close to the stage, we could see interpretation in his face, fluidity of body, and graceful hands. Maestro Wroe never even glanced at the music once during the Mozart. This reviewer has said about concerts conducted by David Wroe time and time again, he is the unifier that propels this orchestra to great heights. The orchestra may not have seen the delight on the audience’s faces because of our masks, but they heard the explosion of cheers and applause that ended the night.

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