Concert Review: Eastman School of Music Summer Conducting Institute Concert

Paloma Capanna
City Newspaper
Rochester, NY
Published: 22 July 2011 9:53 AM

Chaowen Ting and Michelle Merrill are up-and-coming conductors of note – so take note. The Eastman Summer Conducting Institute takes place for five 11-hour days, culminating in a public performance with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Five of the institute participants were selected by the RPO, with course director Neil Varon, to lead the selections of Thursday night’s public performance at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

Even before the concert began, I ticked two things in the program, Dvorak and “Jupiter,” each being difficult for two, completely different reasons. Dvorak is difficult by definition. Conductors and symphonies alike (and for that matter, audience-goers, as well) make a sport of avoiding him. Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) is complicated on every level, from rhythmic shifts to phrases without traditional resolution style to a required pathos. When performed well, Dvorak is more than memorable. When performed as poorly, Dvorak is more than miserable.

Ting chose to conduct the first movement, “Allegro maestoso,” of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in d minor, Opus 70 and she was brilliant. Of the five conductors of the evening, Ting was the one who made purposeful eye contact with the audience when she walked out on stage. From the first beat, Ting’s conducting style communicated a clear sense of direction for the orchestra and the audience. Ting’s interpretation of the Dvorak took the audience on the rollercoaster of mounting tensions, fleeting moments of ease, and the repetitive plunges back down to the depths of the soul. With Ting as conductor, you could see the musicians of the RPO pushing themselves to give every ounce of musicality that she requested from them. The audience was so absorbed by the last beat that the length of the silence after the final note was the loudest of applause. It should be noted that Ting is music director and conductor of Cincinnati Sinfonietta.

Also impressive was the conducting of Michelle Merrill of the Schubert Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D. 485, first movement (“Allegro”). With the natural grace of a prima ballerina, Merrill knows what she wants and how to achieve it. Merrill’s conducting took her full body in wide sweeps, making connections, seemingly, with each individual musician. Merrill’s phrasing of the Schubert was utterly proper in style and form. Merrill is the assistant conductor and graduate teaching assistant of the Symphony Orchestra at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts in Dallas, Texas.

Also conducting this evening was Mark Tse, who begins his doctoral studies in music education this September at the University of Western Ontario. Tse conducted the fourth movement, “Finale: Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace” from the Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Opus 21 by Beethoven. Tse’s interpretation rightly captured the gaiety of Beethoven, from accents on the proper notes and in proper proportion to full-bodied downbeats.

Troy Quinn, founder and music director of the Portsmouth Institute Orchestra of Rhode Island, conducted the fourth movement of Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, the Symphony No 41 in C Major, K. 551. The difficulty Quinn undertook was to find a fresh interpretation of an often-played work. While the performance was solid, I did not take away any particular vision of Quinn for the work.

Based in Rochester, conductor Jerry Hou led the Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Opus 73, “Allegro non troppo.” The orchestra did not seem as settled during this piece. The tempo was a tad faster than I might have thought to take a “non troppo (meaning “not too much so”), which lessened the effect of the swells and left some entrances out of sync.

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