The concert of the Kennett Symphony Orchestra at Longwood Gardens on Sunday evening, April 2 was more than a concert. It was a festival for the ears, eyes, nose and soul as well, the perfect experience to bring one out of the doldrums of winter.
The evening’s experience started as the audience was invited to walk to the conservatory in the warm colors of a springtime sunset. Shuttles were available although many people walked. As they entered the large East Conservatory guests were immediately greeted by the aroma of orchids, the warm smell of green plants and earth, so sorely missed during the winter.
After strolling along the conservatory pond, guests were ushered into the centrally located Exhibition Hall. The familiar sunken marble floor is usually seen covered with a few inches of water to reflect seasonal floral themes. But tonight, the floor was drained creating the perfect concert venue.
Michael Hall, currently in his third season as Musical Director of the orchestra, has brought new vision and direction to the Kennett Symphony Orchestra with noteworthy results. Before the concert started, Paul Merluzzi, president of the orchestra’s board of directors announced this concert was the unprecedented third sell-out in a row.
The orchestra opened the evening with a gentle pastorale by the 20th century Swiss composer Arthur Honegger. Written in 1920, the composition avoided the rough edges and atonality of many 20th century compositions, making it the perfect accompaniment as the audience watched the sun set through the glass paned roof of Exhibition Hall.
The true star of the evening was flutist Mimi Stillman, acclaimed by the New York Times as “a consummate and charismatic performer.”
Indeed, Stillman was the youngest wind student to be accepted into the Curtis Institute of Music at age 12, graduating in 4 years with her music degree in 1999.
Despite being a non-transposing or “C” instrument, the flute is challenging to play. Rather than blowing into it as one would a whistle or other wind instrument, the performer blows across the mouthpiece. Many a young flute student has struggled for days or weeks before even being able to make a sound on their new instrument.
In her performance of Mozart’s Flute Concerto in D Major, Stillman made it look not only easy but fun. During the cadenza of the final allegro movement, Stillman, the music and the flute were inseparable – they were one. A cadenza is freely played solo which gives the soloist a chance to show their virtuosity, while the orchestra is silent. It is rare to witness such a performance and the audience rewarded her with a standing ovation.
Stillman changed pace with the richer sounds of Vittorio Monti’s Czardas, an 18th century dance form of eastern Europe and Russia. One of the high points was a brief antiphonal duet with concertmaster, first violinist Eliezer Gutman.
Rather than playing in the traditional manner, Gutman reached the high pitches through playing harmonics, achieved by lightly touching a string instead of a full stop. It is a difficult technique. The results were beautiful.
The orchestras final selection was Mendelssohn’s familiar Symphony No. 4 in A Major, the Italian Symphony. Even non-music aficionados of a certain age, recognize it as the theme from the soundtrack of the 1979 film Breaking Away.
However, the evening wasn’t over. As the audience walked back to the Longwood Visitors Center with stars twinkling in the clear night air, the music was still ringing in their ears and hearts.
Director Michael Hall had achieved the perfect concert experience.