Arts beat: VIVE! has right stuff in performance of orchestral masterpieces

Ed.  Note: This is the first is a series of commentary and observations on area arts events. This will supplement, not replace, the coverage BG Independent news already provides.


BG Independent News

Usually when Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” or Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” are performed, the size of the orchestra approaches 100. On Sunday (Oct. 8) VIVE! Ensemble conducted by Maria Mercedes Diaz Garcia took on those early 20th Century masterworks with a dozen musicians on each.
The performance in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Great Gallery, was stellar. What the pieces might have missed in orchestral heft they gained in translucent textures with subtleties of voicing ringing out through the ensemble. Diaz, a student in Bowling Green State University’s Doctorate in Contemporary Music program as are a number of the other musicians in the ensemble, shaped these pieces with clarity and a sure sense of form.
As the “Rite” roared to a finish, two sets of timpani and a bass drum provided enough boom to drive the piece home. But the three percussionists on the “Rite” never overwhelmed the rest of the ensemble. Instead it was the audience that was overwhelmed and moved by the performance.
A few more observations:
* Both pieces open with signature solos, and Kenneth Cox on flute on “Prelude” and Joshua Hart on bassoon on “Rite” did justice to their solos. The smaller ensemble meant that all the solo parts stood in greater relief. The ensemble benefits from having such strong musicianship throughout its ranks.

* The picturesque “Prelude” seemed perfect for an art museum, almost like a painting come to life. In the Wolfe Gallery, visitors could see Picasso’s rendering of a faun as part of the special exhibit “Drawn from Classicism: Modern Artists’ Books.”

* The ensemble and the audience combined took up about as much space as just the orchestra would in a traditional performance of these pieces.

* Cox and clarinetist Derek Emch were called on to do some balancing. Each had to play multiple versions of their instruments. Within a measure on “Prelude” Cox had to switch from alto flute to piccolo. At one point on “Rite” Emch as he played his B-flat clarinet, had to maneuver his bass clarinet into position for a quick switch. He and trumpeter Jonathan Britt, who doubled on piccolo trumpet, also delivered the clarion calls on the “Rite.”

* Scott Boberg, the museum’s manager of programs and audience engagement, noted that the grand piano being used in the performance was one of two purchased at the time the Peristyle was opened. That means, he said, “there’s a 50-percent chance that Stravinsky played that piano in 1935.” If the composer’s spirit was lingering along the strings at all, he would have been pleased with what he heard Sunday.