Rescheduled FIU Music Festival concert has its stormy moments

By Lawrence Budmen

Raffaele Livio Ponti  conducted the FIU Music Festival concert Wednesday night, an event rescheduled due to Hurricane Matthew.

Raffaele Livio Ponti conducted the FIU Music Festival concert Wednesday night, an event rescheduled due to Hurricane Matthew.

The 20th anniversary of the opening of the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center at Florida International University was celebrated on Wednesday night at the rejuvenated FIU Music Festival on the university’s southwest Miami-Dade campus. (The concert was originally planned as the festival’s opening event on October 5 but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Matthew.) Visiting director of orchestral studies Raffaele Livio Ponti made his debut in a program that featured the combined talents of students, faculty and alumni of the music division.

Ponti led the FIU Wind Ensemble in Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and from the first bars, weakness and imprecision in the brass were evident. Brass playing continued to be problematic throughout the concert. In an otherwise crisp performance of the “March of the Smugglers” from the Carmen Suite No. 2 by Bizet under graduate conducting student Paul-James Webster, a huge horn blooper on the opening chord caused many in the audience to cringe.

Stravinsky Symphony in E-flat Major is the twentieth-century master’s first published composition and initial orchestral work. While the score is dedicated to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, the music often brings to mind the symphonies of Alexander Glazunov. There is hardly a hint of The Firebird to come, much less of the revolutionary Le Sacre du Printemps. The forty-minute score is rather diffuse and overextended but there is some lovely thematic material along the way.

Ponti brought out the symphony’s romantic contours but this work was not the best choice for a student ensemble. The FIU Symphony Orchestra’s strong point is its string section, which played with impressive polish and unanimity, capturing the very Russian-sounding aura of the score. By contrast, winds and brass sometimes struggled to keep pace.

The concert’s second half featured two longtime faculty members as soloists. Robert Davidovici gave a finely shaded performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. His gleaming tone, particularly in the second movement Andante, matched Mendelssohn’s penchant for expansive lyricism. Coordination between Davidovici and Ponti was not always exact. At times during Davidovici’s fleet reading of the finale, the orchestral accompaniment almost came apart.

The evening concluded with a joyous reading of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. A strange mixture of piano concerto and sketch for the final choral movement of the Ninth Symphony, this work was the audience favorite at the 1808 concert in Vienna at which Beethoven premiered his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. When played well, it still packs a wallop. Kemal Gekic was the brilliant piano soloist. Gekic combined stunning virtuosity, eloquence and strong ensemble skills in perfect measure. Never playing by rote, his performance was replete with vivid interpretive personality.

The combined forces of the FIU Concert Choir, FIU Women’s Chorus and FIU Master Chorale were full voiced and expertly balanced. Sopranos Vindhya Khare and Laura Martinez, mezzo Shanna Nolan Gundry, tenors Scott Tripp and Edgar M. Abreu and bass John Cabrali (all alums of the vocal division) were the excellent solo vocalists. The orchestra pulled it together for their best performance of the evening and Ponti captured the stirring affirmation and energy of this unique work.

After being discontinued for several years, the return of the FIU Festival is welcome on the fall concert calendar. Hopefully future editions will program and utilize the music division’s forces in an imaginative and more judicious manner.

The FIU Music Festival concludes with a concert by pianist Hande Dalkilic and guitarist Mesut Özgen 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Florida International University Wertheim Performing Arts Center in Miami.

Posted in Performances

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Thu Oct 27, 2016
at 4:59 pm
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