By Lee Shepherd
Saturday’s “Unlimited Wonders” concert (March 18) at The Forum with the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton afforded me, a choir member, an orchestra-side view of concert preparation rarely seen by audiences.
Daniel Hege, interim conductor for the 2016-17 season, is a first-rate talent, both as an instrumental and vocal conductor.
He programs diverse and interesting concerts, a mix of beloved warhorses and new works. He fine-tunes interpretation of the music with finesse while still being demanding. And he is friendly, funny and personable, bringing the best out of his musicians. He has my vote for the post of permanent conductor of the BPO.
The “Unlimited Wonder” of Saturday’s concert is that such a complex and complicated program flowed together so quickly, despite Winter Storm Stella, which forced cancellation of all but two rehearsals. The BPO players are consummate professionals and can pull rabbits out of hats.
For a concert opener, the BPO premiered Santino DeAngelo’s “Into the Twilight Zone,” a short piece that flew a team of Southern Tier carousel horses right into Rod Serling’s fourth dimension. This cool and listenable work, commissioned by the BPO, pays homage to famous film scores, including music from Hitchcock movies. As a New York Times reviewer once wrote, DeAngelo has a “gift for engaging melodies.”
A playwright and producer as well as a composer and lyricist, DeAngelo tweaked the orchestration right up through Friday night’s dress rehearsal. What drives him to compose? DeAngelo relates that, as a child, he hated piano lessons and abhorred playing just the notes on the page. Finally, a teacher told him, “You can’t screw with the music like this. If you don’t like what’s written, write your own.” Famous last words.
For me and my fellow Madrigal Choir members, it was pure joy to sing Schubert’s lovely Mass No. 2. We were well prepared by Bruce Borton and by Hege, who gave us deep insight into the work.
One quibble: Although the trio of soloists was fine, I can’t understand why the BPO management brought in outside talent and didn’t hire resident artists from our own Tri-Cities Opera. We have equally good (and, I think, better) singers right in our own backyard, and, increasingly, their opportunities for performance are few and far between.
After intermission, the BPO played Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony Op. 110, a string quartet upscaled for string orchestra. Dedicated to the “victims of fascism and war,” the intensely personal and tragic narrative depicted the composer’s struggle under Stalin’s brutal regime. The five-movement piece, played without pause, is unrelentingly intense, except for a macabre waltz in the middle movement.
Frosting on the cake: A quartet of BPO musicians closed the concert with Haydn’s delightful Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 84. Cellist Hakan Tayga-Hromek, oboist John Lathwell, bassoonist Lynn Hileman and violinist Uli Speth played the piece (written in only 10 days!) with verve, grace and lightness, no musician upstaging another but sharing equally in the limelight.
Upcoming from the BPO: April 29, “Firebird,” featuring Daniel Hege and guest pianist Andrew Russo. On the program: Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Tickets start at $20. Visit Binghamtonphilharmonic.org.