Aaron Davies Hall (The City College of New York), Harlem
Friday, April 20, 2018 7pm
Conductor: Jan Latham-Koenig
The Orchestra Now, Bard College’s excellent ensemble of graduate students, presented a very appealing program at a free concert up in Harlem this past Friday consisting of Vaughan-Williams’ gorgeous Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, and excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suites. Perhaps the only technical criticism worthy of note, aside from a couple of tiny horn flubs in the Schubert, is the fact that a few extra players in each of the string sections would have been optimal, especially in the richly textured Vaughan-Williams. That said, British conductor Jan Latham-Koenig got the musicians to really dig into the music, with extremely satisfying results. Why isn’t this masterpiece played more frequently outside of the UK? It makes a perfect concert opener.
In the Prokofiev, Lathan-Koenig drove the orchestra hard in the wild “fight music” at the start of Tybalt’s Death, but they certainly rose to the challenge, as did the violins in those excruciatingly high passages at the end of Romeo and Juliet Before Parting. It would have been nice, by the way, had Latham-Koenig opted to include another quick number among the final three, all dealing with the death of the protagonists. Still, no complaints about the taut pacing and emotional intensity, powerfully sustained throughout. The Schubert, placed second, featured a particularly impressive opening movement–dark and atmospheric–so much so that one wished that the exposition repeat had been included.
The 750-seat large theater at Aaron Davis Hall was far from full–a shame when the concert is offered free and the quality of the music-making is so high. There was nothing here that fell below fully professional standards. It’s just another reminder that the world of classical music has a long way to go in making itself appealing to a casual audience.