A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
May 21, 2013
08:51 AM
Classically Speaking

Con Vivo!’s “Homecoming” a Nourishing Celebration

Con Vivo!’s  “Homecoming” a Nourishing Celebration

It has been a little over two years since I last soaked up the stimulating programming and collegial artistry of “Con vivo!....music with life.” Last December the ensemble—a sort of ad hoc chamber group with flexible instrumentation—made a Carnegie Hall Weill Recital Hall debut. Thus the closing concert of the season, at “con vivo!’s” local home of the First Congregational Church was labeled “Homecoming.”

The stylistically varied agenda offered May 17 was typically stimulating, and wonderfully supplemented by detailed player bios and program notes—a feature not often found from groups on a limited budget.

The first order of business was to feature the wonderful organ of the FCC sanctuary, played by a man who has called the instrument his own since 1997, FCC Director of Music Ministries Donald DeBruin. As wonderful as it always is to hear the magnificent organ in Overture Hall, there is somehow a more compelling context to hear a marvelous organ in such a setting as this splendid church. With DeBruin offering both clarity and passion, one felt one’s eyes, ears and spirit lifted upward, as if we were invited to glimpse the elusive source of J.S. Bach’s inspiration for his Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, BWV 544. With a deft transparency that avoided the potential contrapuntal confusion, DeBruin’s concluding chord was met with a short silence from the audience, as if an “amen” was needed to trigger the eventual warm ovation.

Violinist Olga Pomolova was featured in both halves, first in Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade Melancolique,” later in Gliere’s “Eight Duets for Violin and Cello.” Either selection alone would have illustrated one of the special joys of “con vivo!,” the opportunity to hear a Madison Symphony player as soloist. Pomolova properly gushed in the Tchaikovsky, with tasteful accompaniment from pianist Dan Lyons, and found the whimsy and innocent beauties of Gliere with cellist Maggie Darby Townsend (another MSO section member).

But perhaps the most wonderful treat of the evening came in the first half closer, and not in the choice of repertoire (the Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 3 of Corelli), but in the fact that the strings required were filled out by four members of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. Violinists Seth Lesondak and  Cally O’Leary, violist Zoe Fleishmann and cellist Isaac Bershady played with a confidence and joy that matched the professionalism and élan of their professional partners.

The evening closed with a chamber music “greatest hit,” the Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano by Mozart. A close cousin to Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, which had been performed on the Carnegie Hall program, clarinetist and “con vivo!” co-founder Robert Taylor, violist Janse Vincent and Lyons proved equal partners in bringing Mozart’s inimitable freshness and tenderness to vibrant life.

When the group returns in November they will expand to a dozen or so players and be joined as they have in the past by conductor John DeMain to celebrate the Wagner bicentennial with the “Siegfried Idyll” and Mozart’s “Gran Partita.” It’s likely that the players and audience will once again feel quite at home.

Photo: members of con vivo! at Carnegie Hall, December 2012; Courtesy: con vivo!....music with life.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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