James Judd returns to lead the gifted students of the Miami Music Project

By Alan Becker

James Judd conducted the Miami Music Project Orchestra in their first public concert Sunday at the Arsht Center.

James Judd, and the Miami Music Project’s Honors Orchestra launched their first public performance Sunday at the Arsht Center. After three years in training, the students, mentored by Judd, were expected to show the Project’s “commitment to the development of talented young musicians and the mission of using music as an instrument for social transformation.” Seeded by money from the Knight Foundation, it was time to show what can be accomplished in the promotion of quality music among our area’s youth.

While aptly symbolic, opening with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was perhaps not the best practical choice for this group. The brief piece, which eventually found its way into Copland’s Third Symphony, can be an impressive, bold, and powerful statement if well performed. Here the students were simply not up to it, as brass players struggled to maintain accuracy at high volume.

It would be foolish to attempt comparison with fully professional ensembles, yet Judd seemed well on his way towards working his magic with this group of youngsters in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Talent, of course, has a great deal to do with it, as does the audition process, and the discipline and training required. Without attempting a full program the players could devote most of their attention to all aspects of the Tchaikovsky symphony.

A good performance of the work requires a sense of nuance and control. It is also necessary that both conductor and musicians convey a sense of being inspired, and communicate that inspiration to the audience.

Judd led a fiery performance, never giving the impression of giving less than his all. Players attacked together, ensemble was tight, and intonation rarely a problem. The famous exposed horn solo in the Andante cantabile was played without any reticence, and the woodwinds were forthright and accurate.

Any fears that Tchaikovsky would be ill served by these players quickly evaporated as the music progressed. With quick tempos in the finale’s Allegro vivace, and no extended pauses, Judd helped keep the audience from applauding in error, as frequently occurs.

Whatever can be said about the orchestra, it is James Judd’s return to the South Florida scene that draws the most attention. His many years as conductor of the now defunct Florida Philharmonic gave the area one of its prime cultural assets and one that will not easily be forgotten.

Posted in Performances

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Tue Nov 8, 2011
at 12:18 am
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