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SINFONIETTA REVIEW: ‘The audience sat spellbound’

Music Director Stuart Malina conducts the Lake Placid Sinfonietta in the Lake Placid Center for the Arts theater. (Provided photo — Lisa Keegan Photography)

The first piece, “Serenade for Small Orchestra” by Jean Francaix, was quirky, fun and could have been an inspiration to those who later composed soundtracks for Warner Brothers cartoons.

The third piece was amazing in a number of ways.

1) It was a four-movement symphony composed in 1855 by a 17-year-old student under the tutelage of Charles Gounod at the Paris Conservatory.

2) The composer made no effort to have it published nor performed. After his death at age 36 the manuscript wound up in the conservatory’s library where it remained for decades until it was discovered in 1933. It premiered two years later and has become part of the standard repertoire of most orchestras.

3) Despite making no money off of this effort, the composer still did okay for himself in the remaining few years to his short life. Among his achievements includes “Carmen,” one of the five most popular operas ever written.

He was, of course, Georges Bizet. His “Symphony in C” is also a hit in the world of dance where George Balanchine choreographed a ballet to it.

So, why did Bizet practically hide it from posterity? No one knows for sure, but a good guess might be that Bizet thought he had stolen too much of it from a symphony his instructor had premiered the previous year.

“Symphony in C” as performed at the weekly Sunday concert July 25 by the Lake Placid Sinfonietta under the direction of Stuart Malina was a delight to listen to at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, where one could have wondered, “Which is more interesting — the piece or the story behind it?”

Now for that second listing, “Three Pieces from ‘Schindler’s List.'” To read it on the program does not do it justice because one could easily dismiss it as just three schmaltzy movie themes by John Williams, you know, that ubiquitous “Star Wars” composer and musical thief devoid of an original thought.

Well, not so fast. “Schindler’s List” is not your typical Spielberg fantasy driven laser gun shoot-’em-up. It’s an intense black and white three-hour account involving Oskar Schindler, a depraved Nazi schmoozer who demonstrates astonishing courage and humanity by saving the lives of about 1,200 Jews otherwise doomed to be slaughtered in the Holocaust.

As told by Mr. Malina, after Williams viewed the film he confessed to Spielberg that his composing skills were not worthy of such tragic and deep subject matter. He needed to find “a better composer.”

Spielberg replied that he could have a point, but there was one problem with all those “better” composers.

“They’re all dead,” he said.

The result was yet another John Williams movie soundtrack, but not the kind we’re used to hearing with all its fast-paced heroics. Movie critic John Ebert wrote, “The film as Spielberg made it is haunting and powerful.”

If written in the 18th century during the era of “absolute” music, the title in the program could have read “Three Mournful Studies for Orchestra and Solo Violin, Played Slowly in Minor Keys.”

As a featured soloist it’s one thing to get all the notes right. It’s something entirely different to do so with a sense of artistry that makes the instrument come alive and sing to the audience in a way that touches their hearts as only the individual performer can do.

Concertmaster Daniel Szasz proved himself to be more than up to the task as the audience sat spellbound through all three pieces, 1) “Theme from ‘Schindler’s List;'” 2) “Jewish Town (Krakow Ghetto-Winter ’41);” 3) “Remembrances.”

The solo violin part included nothing that remotely resembled the usual crowd pleasing formula of notes played high, loud and fast.

Instead, his instrument sang with such power, depth of emotion and exceptional beauty that the audience responded not with the kind of standing ovation that often begins with a few people in the front who stand and block the view of those behind them until they eventually trickle up to their feet mostly so they can see.

This was the kind of standing O that occurs as if Ving “We-Have-The-Meat” Rhames himself appears onstage as a court bailiff and barks out, “ALL RISE!!”

As the applause dissipated, the crowd members slowly settled back into their seats and awaited for Mr. Malina to deliver his remarks prior to the final number on the program, he instead just stood there a few feet from the mic looking pale, visibly shaken and unable to move. This slightly awkward moment passed when he made it to the mic and said he still needed some time to gather his wits about him.

He gazed at Mr. Szasz and explained, “I’ve just had a profoundly emotional experience.”