"Dynamic Duos" Review- The Chicago Philharmonic at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

On February 12, 2017, as part of their 2016-2017 season, “Love”, The Chicago Philharmonic presented a concert called “Daring Duos”, which showcased flutes and trumpets in solos and duets, at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, their first appearance at this venue. Vibrant conductor Scott Speck led the Philharmonic with featured solo artists Bill Denton and Robert Sullivan, trumpets. Composer Anthony Plog spoke about one of his pieces featured in the program, and jazz duo Zvonimir Tot, guitar, and Art David, another star trumpet, performed to great effect in the foyer. This was a carefully planned thematically based concert exploring “the dizzying heights of courage that faithful friends and lovers can reach for each other”.

Art David and Zvonimir Tot

 The program consisted of 5 works:

 The “Leonore” Overture (from the opera of that name, later renamed “Fidelio”) 1804-1805, by Ludwig von Beethoven, was performed with double trumpet solos from a box at stage left. This piece, the second version, is a favorite in concert halls; it is a dramatic harbinger of what is to come in the opera, which centers upon a wife who disguises herself as a man to save her husband, an unjustly jailed political prisoner. It was beautifully played here, a work of power and substance. The initial distant trumpet call followed by the next which heralds freedom culminates in an ecstatic flute and recapitulation par excellence.

Bill Denton, Scott Speck and Robert Sullivan with the Chicago Philharmonic

 “Dance of the Blessed Spirits”, from the opera “Orfeo and Eurydice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck, a piece that premiered in 1762, was performed with a duet of flutes by John Thorne and Janice MacDonald standing together at center stage. The opera tells the story of Orpheus’ travels to the underworld to implore the Gods to release his dead wife. This gentle and pastoral piece is one of the composer’s most well-known and admired pieces. The stately melody was rendered in a serene and joyful manner, and the lovely flutes added just the right note of sadness and muted passion, a fine testament to Gluck’s classical genius.

 “Double Trumpet Concerto in C major”, by Antonio Vivaldi, RV 537, date unknown, is a 3 movement piece among the composer’s best-known and yet its provenance is a mystery; the source is a single manuscript found in the National Library of Turin.  In the outer movements, the allegros, the material can well be described as flashy and filled with the fanfare of trumpets, played with virtuoso skill by Denton and Sullivan. The central largo is really a bridge during which the trumpets rest. It’s a vigorous and emphatic trumpet showcase- Vivaldi’s only concerto which features trumpets- and the strings add color and lustre.

Bill Denton and Robert Sullivan

 “Double Concerto for Two Trumpets”, 2001, by Anthony Plog, was a perfect choice to follow the Vivaldi; indeed, it was written, said Plog, who took the stage with Speck, “To pay homage to” the very popular Double Concerto just heard. Plog explained he “Wanted to write a similar piece”. In fact, it has been written that “With the exception of the addition of one percussionist and harpsichord/celesta the orchestration is exactly the same”- the final bars of Plog’s work even “quote” RV537! However, this exciting, spirited and complex piece contains modern themes and harmonies; as played here, it was lighter in mood than the Vivaldi, altogether enjoyable, with a clarion/military feel.

Conductor Scott Speck with Composer Anthony Blog

 “Symphony No. 4 in A major”, known as “The Italian”, Op. 90, 1833 by Felix Mendelssohn, closed the program. It originated during the composer’s tour of Europe, and was directly inspired “By the color and atmosphere of Italy”. Mendelssohn himself was said to be unhappy with the piece, despite its success; he revised it and planned to do so again.  The four movements, which Speck described as “Delightful” are quite distinct in nature; the first most joyful, the second influenced by a religious procession, the third a minuet, and the last incorporates influences from both the Roman saltarello dance and the Neopolitan tarantella.

 The musicians were dressed in black with red accents for an early nod to Valentine’s Day. Speck himself sported an intriguingly- cut jacket with wide lapels and Nehru-style shirt. The audience and this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed this unique program of duos.

Chicago Philharmonic in "Daring Duos"

 For information about and tickets to all the great programs and concerts put on by The Chicago Philharmonic, go to www.chicagophilharmonic.org

 All photos by Elliot Mandel





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