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SINFONIETTA REVIEW: ‘No snoozing while this guy is playing’

Lake Placid Sinfonietta Music Director Stuart Malina (Photo provided)

With the string players all masked up, the wind players spread apart in germ-prevention mode, and a new maestro wielding the baton — with a mask — the Lake Placid Sinfonietta on Sunday, July 11 returned to their familiar stage for the first time in 23 months to an audience that was more than ready to have them back.

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging through the country last year, the Tri-Lakes area was hardly immune to the effects of what must have been the worst year for the performing arts in anybody’s memory as every gathering from symphony concerts to high school plays was either canceled or transferred to a computer screen.

Sunday’s audience at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, totaling 267, sat without any restrictions on space and without any mask requirements. They just had to show proof of having been vaccinated.

The program was shortened to roughly an hour in length with no intermission and no reception afterward. Nobody seemed to care because they finally had some LIVE MUSIC!

In his first concert as music director, Stuart Malina started things off gently with the 1946 composition “Lyric for Strings” by African-American composer George Walker.

Although this piece is reminiscent of Samuel Barber’s iconic “Adagio for Strings,” it still has a tranquil beauty that is all its own. For those like this writer who can easily get lulled to sleep by a piece like this if played shortly after lunch or dinner, Maestro Malina had just the wake-up call next on the program in the form of principal trumpeter Steven Franklin taking center stage playing Haydn’s Concerto in E-flat for trumpet and orchestra.

Tall, young and athletic looking, Mr. Franklin has a presence that can fill up a stage, and a sound that can fill up the Grand Canyon. No snoozing while this guy is playing, thank you very much. This audience seems to love its featured soloists more than anything, and they held nothing back from this young virtuoso of the trumpet, especially after his lengthy and dynamic cadenza near the end of the first movement.

The evening concluded with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat. Such 18th century music works well with this ensemble because its 20-member size compares favorably with the orchestras of that era.

While Mr. Franklin proved he could electrify the room as a soloist, Maestro Malina demonstrated nothing but professional skill with the baton and a well-honed knack for establishing a harmonious rapport with the audience while talking on the microphone regardless of whether or not it was turned on.

To those who may have loved Mr. Franklin’s musicianship but felt discomfort in their ears because of the volume or timbre of the instrument, one could make the argument that the room isn’t big enough to handle a trumpet. Either that or else it lacks the proper acoustic design to keep a trumpet from sounding harsh to certain ears.

This writer plans to bring earplugs from now on for use on rare occasions when it’s not so much the volume or anything wrong that the performer might be doing. It’s just that certain instruments can give off certain timbres that irritate certain ears through no fault of anybody playing those instruments. So rather than insist the musicians do anything different, the listener can slip the ear plugs in to where the music is still plenty loud enough but without the irritation.

To those who may have thought the concert needed more of a big bang finish possibly because they’d grown weary after four movements of Mozart, it could be more likely a case of having grown weary after seven movements in the key of E-flat seeing how both the Haydn concerto and the Mozart symphony were both in that key.

It’s been said that Sousa would program his concerts in such a way that each piece would always be followed by one written in a key a step or two higher than the previous piece.

Such issues of volume, timbre and key selection are just small potatoes compared to the big picture of just having the Sinfonietta back onstage after 23 long months. Sunday’s concert had the feeling of a class reunion where so many people finally got to see their old friends again whether they be fellow audience members who never see each other outside of these concerts, or whether the old friends in question happen to be the orchestra itself.

Their sound doesn’t seem to have suffered any despite the long separation, and their leadership doesn’t appear to have suffered either despite having a new director in Maestro Malina who gives every indication he is more than qualified for the position.

The enthusiasm with which they were received should make it plenty clear to the casual observer that it was not a case of out-of-sight-out-of-mind, but more a case of the orchestra having maintained a constant presence in the hearts of its devoted audience members who rightfully regard it as a beloved institution.