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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 1:54 am | Fair 43º


Margo Kline: Music Academy Samples Chamber Works

Maestro Larry Rachleff brings out the best in the young musicians

The Music Academy of the West Chamber Orchestra played a piquant variety of pieces on Saturday at the Lobero Theatre, demonstrating that small can be mighty when great composers are involved.

Larry Rachleff, who last week conducted a robust opening concert of the academy’s full Symphony Orchestra, was again at the podium. He is a genial maestro, coaxing the best from these outstanding young musicians.

The evening consisted of works by Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith and Joseph Haydn. The latter’s Symphony No. 96 in D Major, “The Miracle,” provided a truly “classical” climax to this eclectic program.

The evening began with the 1947 version of Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments. This is one of Stravinsky’s strikingly “modern” works, yet because it is played by an aggregation of flutes, oboes, bassoons and the lower brasses, it is surprisingly mellow.

The players were seated in a compact bunch on the Lobero stage, Rachleff leading them with his customary finesse. The music was composed in 1920 and dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, who had died two years previously. While it had dissonant aspects, it fulfilled its purpose as a soothing requiem.

Next up was Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 1, Opus 24, written in 1922. Here the ensemble was larger, and a piano was included, played by Minyoung Yang. Before commencing the work, Rachleff told the audience that Hindemith wrote his Kammermusik pieces as a kind of homage to Johann Sebastian Bach, only more in the spirit of a “cartoon.” (One of Rachleff’s most endearing qualities as a conductor is his gift for making serious music accessible to the audience.)

After the intermission, the full chamber orchestra came on stage for the Haydn piece, which was the first of 12 symphonies he composed upon his initial arrival in London in 1791. The English had already come to know and love Haydn’s music, and his set of “London” symphonies was warmly welcomed.

By all accounts, Haydn reciprocated the affection he was shown by his English admirers. A man with the nickname “Papa” had to have been a warm, agreeable soul who enjoyed his well-earned acclaim, both back home in Austria and subsequently with Londoners who admired and respected him.

The 96th symphony is full of surprises and musical change-ups, including the Minuet’s highlight of a delicate oboe solo. The finale is in the form of a lively Austrian contradance, another crowd-pleaser.

Haydn’s symphonies were often given nicknames, and this one is called “The Miracle.” The reason was that during one performance, a large crystal chandelier crashed to the floor, but “miraculously” no one was hurt. Any Haydn aficionado who has seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera is entitled to wonder if this is the source of that crashing chandelier in the modern musical.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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