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SINFONIETTA REVIEW: Despite hiccup, Sinfonietta centennial season begins with stellar performances

July 13, 2017
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The Lake Placid Sinfonietta, under the direction of Ron Spigelman, made a powerful opening statement at its first concert of this its centennial season on Sunday, July 9 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

The concert featured a well-received world premiere work by Michael Torke, works by Haydn and Mozart featuring the Northern Lights Choir with vocal soloists, and an exciting Beethoven piano concerto performed by the stunningly beautiful Olga Kern, who when introduced by Spigelman turned up missing in action.

The evening opened with Torke's "Sylvan," a three-movement dedication to three Adirondack trees, the eastern white pine, the yellow birch, and the red spruce. The first movement featured the low strings on one side of the stage playing highly intricate rhythm figures in unison with the piano parked on the other side of the stage, thus adding to the challenge. The awkward distance didn't seem to phase anybody, though, as the two sections danced their way through the syncopated rhythms in lockstep while the rest played equally lively and energetic melodic figures that connected well with the capacity crowd which couldn't help itself from breaking into an ovation at the movement's conclusion.

The second movement's characteristic soft, slow adagio feel set up the lively third. Although not as lively as the first with the low strings and piano playing even rhythm figures this time, it didn't seem to take away from its appeal to the audience members, most of whom gave it a standing ovation.

With Kern up next to do Beethoven's iconic "Emperor" Piano Concerto No. 5, two young men quickly moved out to position the piano in its proper place center stage. Spigelman meanwhile gave one of his typically eloquent off-the-cuff introductions full of interesting history behind the piece. As the two young gentleman parked the piano and locked its wheels, Spigelman ended his little history lesson, held out his right arm in the direction of where Kern was to make her entrance, and proudly announced her name as the audience applauded in anxious anticipation.

The tall, blond and tanned Olga Kern, however, was still downstairs in her dressing room unaware that she'd just been introduced as Spigelman was unaware that she was nowhere in sight. Realizing it was time for quick action, he dashed offstage to go fetch her, leaving the orchestra to do little but stare back at the audience as thoughts of the "Jeopardy" theme may have swirled through the minds of many.

In due time, Spigelman and Kern emerged from the wings together, she wearing a long revealing gown of blazing fall colors over her statuesque frame. Not seeming to be the least bit flustered by the awkwardness of the moment, pianist and orchestra completed a blistering performance of this work that prompted absolutely everybody to spring to their feet at the end.

While recordings of such works are nice to hear, you don't get the excitement of watching the pianist's hands. During the first movement in particular Kern's right hand repeated a short melodic phrase in the piano's upper register while the left hand blasted up and down the keyboard as if controlled by a completely different brain leaving smoke trails in its wake.

Live music is always so much better.

A well-placed source with the Sinfonietta explained that Kern had been instructed to be in place at a certain time, but her dressing room had no clock in it.

But with 62 choir members milling about downstairs where a TV monitor keeps them apprised of what's happening onstage, why didn't any of them take some initiative? One member commented, "Only about a third of the group were in the smaller room with the monitor, and you couldn't really hear what was going on sitting in the big room. So two-thirds of the group were unaware of anything. When it happened I was walking ... into the room with the monitor and I just saw Olga flying by. This is the first time any of us saw her. The monitor is small, and the volume was very low, so I don't know how much people were even paying attention to what was going on when the music wasn't playing. The majority of people in there were on their iPhones or talking quietly with each other.

"On a lighter note, when she flew by she was a sight to behold! The men's eyes were bugging out!"

While the choir fell down on an opportunity to divert a crisis, they certainly didn't fall down on their opportunity to perform first Mozart and then Haydn. This well-balanced and well-rehearsed sounding ensemble has proven to be a good fit with the Sinfonietta as it delivers every time.

Lake Placid Middle/High School vocal director Kimberly Weems soloed during Mozart's "Regina Coeli," a piece that Spigelman pointed out was written when the composer was but 15. With her part demanding operatic virtuosity, Weems demonstrated that her strong voice shows no signs of wear and tear despite the rigors imposed on one's vocal chords that come naturally from teaching high school performing groups.

The evening ended with three sections from Haydn's "The Creation."

"If we played the whole thing we'd be here until after midnight," Spigelman said.

With creationism being the prevailing wisdom of the era, Haydn captures the musical essence of God creating Earth and life in a piece in which the music still sounds fresh and full of life even if the prevailing wisdom it represents may seem passe by today's standards.

As the season marches on in celebration of the orchestra's centennial anniversary, this could be the summer not to miss a single concert. This Sunday's features Irish-themed works by Victor Herbert, Sir Arthur Sullivan and Amy Beach with guest artists Cherish the Ladies, a Grammy-nominated octet from New York that performs Irish step dancing and plays traditional Irish instruments.

It's always so much better when heard live.



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