By PABLO CORÁ | Special to the Post
After more than 18 months of forced closure due to the pandemic, St. Matthew’s Music Guild welcomed a live audience to their home at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Friday, September 17.
The evening was billed as a bonus “thank you” concert, acknowledging support from more than 150 subscribing households that have sustained the Guild and its musicians during the shutdown.
Members of the string section of The Chamber Orchestra at St Matthew’s, all masked and under the direction of conductor Dwayne S. Milburn, offered a varied and lively menu of music from the 20th century, including music of Béla Bartók, Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells and Aaron Copland. The featured soloist was Boris Allakhverdyan, principal clarinet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in the “Clarinet Concerto” by Copland.
Allakhverdyan, former principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, joined LA Phil in 2016 and is widely regarded as one of the foremost clarinet virtuosi on the international stage. Clearly, he relished the intimate setting and vibrant acoustics of the Music Guild’s venue on Bienveneda Avenue, playing with great tenderness and subtlety in the concerto’s opening waltz, and incredible drive and passion in the jazzy closing movement.
The concerto was commissioned by clarinetist Benny Goodman and is a tour de force for not only the soloist, but the orchestra of strings, piano and harp as well.
Milburn acknowledged the terrible toll of the pandemic by programing the moving “Elegy” by British composer Howells. Composed in 1917 in memory of a fellow student from the Royal College of Music who was killed in World War I, “Elegy” is scored for solo viola, string orchestra, string quartet and organ.
The orchestra’s Principal Viola, David Sage, was featured. Howells’ musical language is reminiscent of his friend and mentor, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Beautifully transparent, the scoring for three protagonists (soloist, quartet and orchestra) undergirded by the magnificent pipe organ of St. Matthew’s Church provided a moment of catharsis for many and left many others deeply moved.
Bartók’s youthful “Rumanian Folk Dances” and the “Simple Symphony” by Britten constituted the first half of the program. Full of jaunty dance rhythms and spicy Eastern European harmonies, Bartók’s “Dances” opened the program with flair and vitality.
Britten composed the “Symphony” in 1934 and based it on piano pieces he had composed as a child. They are, in fact, very youthful-sounding movements, at times sentimental, at times naïve but always charming and effective.
Upcoming concerts slated to be a part of the 2021-22 season include the official Season Opener on October 8 featuring cellist Antonio Lysy, followed by tenor Jon Lee Keenan, horns player Teag Reeves and The Chamber Orchestra at St. Matthew’s in Spotlight on Strings on November 12.
“As you review the offerings for the 2021-22 season, the Music Guild Board and I believe you’ll find something on every concert to excite and encourage you to join us,” wrote Milburn on the Guild’s website. “When you do, don’t forget to bring a friend. The future looks to be one of rejuvenation and growth, and we want you all to be a part of it.”
For more information, including to purchase tickets to future concerts, visit musicguildonline.org.
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