ON THE SCENE: LP Sinfonietta returns from pandemic pause
After a year’s delay, and to the great relief of the audience and musicians alike, the Lake Placid Sinfonietta opened its annual Sunday concert series with a flourish on July 11 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
The concert featured three stellar artists, Black American composer George Walker, Sinfonietta trumpet master Steven Franklin and Maestro Stuart Malina.
Imagine applying for a prestigious job, getting selected over several other worthy candidates, and, before you can start work, the entire division you’ve been hired to lead is put on hold for an indeterminate length of time. That’s precisely what happened to Malina before he could take up his baton and conduct the Sinfonietta. It was well into this year before he even knew there would be a season, and if there was one, under what circumstances an audience could participate. Would it be live? If so, would audience members have to be masked and sit socially distanced apart? Would it be via Zoom or some other platform? Or some combination of both? And then, what about the free concerts at Mid’s Park with Main Street being torn up?
“There are going to be bumps. There are going to be changes at the last minute,” said Malina about the 2021 summer season. But he’s not short on ambitious plans or bringing new music that will build on their successful first concert. His season includes a symphony by Robert Ward, most known for having written the opera “The Crucible,” an orchestration of “Appalachian Spring” for 13 instruments and Jean Franaix’s “Serenade for Small Orchestra.”
On Sunday, Sinfonietta members and fans got to see Malina in action. They learned that he’d be introducing them to 20th century composers, like Walker, celebrating the talent within the orchestra and that the Sinfonietta would continue to provide high-quality performances under his baton.
Walker is a trailblazer that many Americans likely do not know. His music is grounded in the classical tradition as well as African-American spirituals and jazz. As Malina shared with the audience that Walker is a person with many firsts to his name: first Black American pianist to play a recital at New York’s Town Hall, first Black soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, first Black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, and first Black classical composer to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Malina and the orchestra showcased Walker’s beloved “Lyric for Strings,” a moody piece that set the tone for the pandemic that’s impacted all our lives for the last 18 months.
Winner of several international prizes, a guest soloist with many leading orchestras, associate principal/second trumpet with the Kansas City Symphony, and a noted composer, Steven Franklin is the Sinfonietta’s trumpet master. He dazzled the audience as the soloist for Hayden’s Concerto in Eb Major for Trumpet and Orchestra. That said, hard to believe is that Franklin started as a pianist, and his early efforts on the trumpet were painful to experience. He credits a high school music teacher with opening up the possibilities of the trumpet, coupled with lots of practice, which resulted in his making it his instrument of choice.
“I was absolutely horrible on the trumpet and didn’t fall in love with it till high school,” said Franklin. “Then I started taking lessons and found out that if I’d practice, I’d get better. I had a fabulous teacher. He taught me all about music, how to make the trumpet sound like the human voice, and how to sing through the trumpet. That fascinated me, so much so by the time I got ready to apply to college, the trumpet had overtaken the piano. I decided to make it my life.”
Franklin loves the intimacy of playing with the Sinfonietta along with the opportunity of finding ways of blending with the woodwinds, new modes of phrasing music, and not having to worry about hauling an entire brass section along with him. He said he has more creative opportunities with the Sinfonietta than he does blending in as a member of a 100-piece orchestra. In addition, he and his family love being in Lake Placid.
Malina and the orchestra wrapped the evening with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, written within six days during the height of the composer’s musical career that coincided with profound personal challenges. Described as “brilliant and inspired” by Boston music critic Martin Pearlman, the symphony was well played by the Sinfonietta. The evening ended with a well-deserved standing ovation. It was neat that the concert was witnessed not only by those lucky enough to be in the hall but by many attending virtually, resulting in a combined audience exceeding the LPCA’s capacity.
“It was disheartening to postpone our planned 2020 season,” said Sinfonietta board President Linda McClarigan. “What we did was use that year to regroup, take a step back, finish our strategic plan, update our vision and mission statement adding core values, and look at how we can be innovative, adopt technology and have future thinking. In addition, we added three musicians to our board.”
McClarigan said they had a we-can-do-this attitude. One outcome of their planning is simultaneously broadcasting all their concerts on a virtual streaming platform known for its sound quality.
“Stuart is amazing,” McClarigan added. “He has been with us the whole year on Zoom meetings. He has a sense of energy, and he’s so artistic. We’re thrilled to have him and his family in Lake Placid this summer.”
The musicians were also happy and relieved to be back. Ann Alton, the principal cellist, said that it was wonderful to make music again, even if it required wearing a mask. She said the musicians missed each other as friends and colleagues. Alton was lucky that she had students to teach, though doing so online was a challenge.
Violist Denise Cridge agreed. She even snuck up for a couple of weeks last summer just the get out of the city and relax. Cridge’s glad that 15 months of teaching music via Google Classroom is ending.
“I loved it,” said Debby Mason of the evening’s performances. “I love how Malina programmed a concert that went from dark to light. I thought the energy level and talent were incredible.”
“It’s re-boosting my spirit,” said Dan Mason. “The last time we heard live music was March 11th of last year.
“I can’t think of a better way to start a season,” said Franny Preston. “With the trumpet solo and the rousing Mozart piece, we’re so lucky to have Sinfonietta and all the great music they bring to us.”
For the Sinfonietta’s summer schedule, tickets and links to online performances: https://lakeplacidsinfonietta.org.
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)