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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Concert Review: The Insider's Guide to the Orchestra

InSight Concerts offer a unique listening perspective.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Roger Nierenberg led the InSight Orchestra concerts this weekend at the DiMenna Center.
Photo © 2015 The Music Paradigm.
You learn more sitting in the orchestra.

That's the theory anyway behind the work of conductor Roger Nierenberg. Mr. Nierenberg leads The Music Paradigm, which offers team-building and training seminars to executives looking to improve their leadership skills by working with a classical orchestra. On Saturday night, Mr. Nierenberg applied his principles to a regular classical music concert, leading the first of two InSight concerts in Mary Flagler Cary Hall, the downstairs performance and rehearsal space in the DiMenna Center for Classical Music.

For this concert, Mr. Nierenberg chose an extraordinary format. There was no traditional division between the assembled audience and the players: attendees were seated on chairs among, next to and directly behind the musicians. There was also no printed program. Instead, numbers were announced from the podium. Alternatively, audience members could peer over the shoulder of the nearest musician to see what they were playing.

The concert opened with the orchestra's concertmaster rising to his feet, tuning the ensemble and leading a program of English folk dances (orchestrated by Mr. Nierenberg) designed to show the diversity and skill of his hand-picked players. This was followed by the conductor's entrance, as he led a much better known version of the exact same dances from the pen of Benjamin Britten.

My seat was behind the double basses, with a good view of the part for that instrument and the timpani to the right. I also had a good look at Mr. Nierenberg, who exhorted his players with flamboyant baton gestures but urged more from them with a pleading glance or a whispered exhortation. For the next piece, Zoltán Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, audience members were invited to stand in a group behind Mr. Nierenberg but I elected to keep my seat and its unique perspective.

The musicianship in this performance was taut and professional, with a committed group of players giving their utmost in the three works on the first half. Of these, the Britten shone forth the brightest, with quicksilver orchestrations throughout and an eloquent solo for the English horn in its last movement. The orchestra played through the Kodály with gusto, bringing bold energy to these familiar pieces which seem to be currently in vogue with those who program such concerts.

Mr. Nierenberg's living comes from giving seminars, and he offered one of sorts with a preview of the second half of the program. Using carefully culled musical examples, he walked the audience through excerpts from Wagner's Siegfried Idyll (presented in its version for full orchestra) and Ravel's Ma Mere L'Oye, offering a warm family anecdote about the former and exhaustive examples of the latter's fairy tales. The audience was also ordered to change seats, and I found a new post at the rear of the first violins.

From my new perspective, the Siegfried Idyll was taken a little fast, although the fine details woven into both the main melody and supporting harmony parts came forth with clarity and conviction. The audience liked the Ravel better, with its flashy solos for exotic instruments like the xylophone, contrabassoon and gong. Maybe it was the bright acoustic of Cary Hall, but this performance made listening from inside the orchestra a successful experiment for all concerned.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats