Youthful Exuberance

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By Birdie Jaworski

A tall man in a pink Nehru shirt and wrinkled linen slacks stood at the edge of Ilfeld Auditorium’s stage, his head and shoulders cocked at an awkward angle, no other musicians at his side. He held a violin, a instrument that seemed tiny, insignificant, compared to his large frame. The audience shuffled program and purse as he lifted the wooden body to his chin in a gentle arc.

Renowned violinist and composer Mark O’Connor stole the surprised exhaled breath of the audience, slung it beneath his strings, as he played “Poem,” an original composition. He moved as one with his instrument as he began with several pretty motifs which kept recurring in bits and pieces while the piece escalated to higher notes and faster passages, gradually returning to a more thoughtful poetic statement at the end.

He ended his turn at the stage with an improvisation on “Amazing Grace,” filled with amazingly fast passages and tonal effects, a technical marvel, with suggestions of the theme scattered through the work. The audience rose to their feet at the conclusion, one of several standing ovations during the Music from Angel Fire’s “Youthful Exuberance” concert last Friday evening.

O’Connor offered a complex, studied counterpoint to the youthful performances surrounding his set. The concert began with Christopher Weiss’ “Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello,” a five-part suite expertly played by young artist Bronwyn Banerdt. The work tackled the physical limitations of the instrument, forcing Banerdt to travel the length of the neck with speed and dexterity. Beads of sweat poured from her brow as she layered unusual harmonics, plucking and bowing at the same time, technical effects not often asked of the instrument and player.

Next, Banerdt joined violinists Malina Sosnowski and Shanshan Yao along with voila player Hyo-Bi Sim in Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F Minor for Strings, Op. 80. Mendelssohn came from a cultured and artistic family. As a child, he developed a love for the music of J. S. Bach, and is credited with causing a sort of Bach revival. His music was known for beautiful melodies, clarity, and counterpoint, which is the art of writing note against note, where you can hear multiple melodies at the same time, weaving their way through the piece. This quartet offered Mendelssohn with an experimental boldness, and of course, beautiful romantic touches. The four young women moved in unity, each poised on the edge of her chair, sometimes breaking into smile during difficult passages.

During intermission, audience members admired a set of three painted violins set at one side of the stage. As part of Music from Angel Fire’s 25th anniversary, local artists were asked to paint one of 25 violin which will later be auctioned off to raise money to support the musical program. Las Vegas artist, Linda Wooten-Green, was one of those asked to participate. Her violin features a dancing woman painted in Mediterranean hues whose body follows the natural curves of the instrument.

“My inspiration for the violin was Picasso,” explains Wooten-Green. “The shape of the violin suggested a woman. I wanted to do something a little different. I had donated art in the past for the Music from Angel Fire program and was pleased to be asked to paint a violin. The instruments are gorgeous.

The well-received program ended with Music from Angel Fire’s quintet, consisting of violinists Theodore Arm and Ida Kavafian, violist Toby Appel, and cellists Peter Wiley and Sophie Shao. They played Boccherini’s Quintet in C Major for Strings. Boccherini was an Italian composer who spent a good part of his life in Spain.

His music is full of delicate and graceful melodies, humorous developments and rich rhythms and emotions. The quintet featured two cellos, one of which had virtuosic passage work reflecting the fact that Boccherini was a master cellist. The musicians completed the piece with great finesse, and offered an encore of Boccherini’s Minuet in G.

Music from Angel Fire is offering another concert in Las Vegas at the Immaculate Conception Parish this coming Monday at 7 p.m. Titled “From Lament to Ecstasy,” the concert begins with Mozart’s famous Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings. The quintet ends with a Theme and Variations, where there is an opening tune and the instruments play with it for the rest of the movement. The concert rounds out with a Villa-Lobos’ “Quinteto em forma de choros for Winds.” The ecstasy portion of the show promises to be Dvorak’s Quintet in E-flat Major for Strings, Op. 97, which consists of four movement. Dvorak is considered one of the masters of the quintet, often with bohemian flavors and virtuosic writing.

Music from Angel Fire, 25th Anniversary Concert, From Lament to Ecstasy, Monday, Sept.1, 7 p.m. at the Immaculate Conception Parish. For tickets or more information, call 575-377-3233.