With two Faculty Artists Concerts already in the bank, it was time for the 2022 Colorado College Summer Music Festival to make a deposit of its most valuable asset on Tuesday night in the Cornerstone Arts Center: the Festival Orchestra.
In session for only 10 days, a top-notch performance from 54 aspiring young professionals would not seem to be in the offing. How could there possibly be sufficient time to build up significant artistic equity?
Enter one Scott Yoo, a conductor and violinist who has dramatically increased the portfolio of the 38-year-old festival since he arrived in 2002. His dynamic leadership of this ever-changing “student” orchestra has received worldwide accolades and resulted in some of the planet’s finest raw material, so to speak, migrating to the campus each summer to be refined and polished.
Into the refining fire: Johannes Brahms’ soul-searching “Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90” from 1883. This work burns hot from the get-go, and Yoo only stoked the flames. The first violins were immediately thrown into battle and, at first, misfired; they were not of one sound. Add to that some miscues in the winds, and the rarefied reputation of this program seemed in question. That was then.
Led by some great sounds from bassoonist Kataia Osorio, clarinetist Taig Egan, flutist Olivia Chaikin, and French hornist Stephanie Fritz as well as solid expression from cellos, basses, and violas and an impeccably tuned woodwind choir, the music eventually found its footing. By the time that the opening themes were repeated in the recapitulation, Yoo’s terse but tender vision of this great German Romantic composer’s art was apparent to all. Notably, the violins were superb for the remainder of the concert.
The excellence of this performance was ultimately generated not by the intensity of the outer movements but by the introspection, beauty, and ease of the andante and poco allegretto. The players responded to Yoo’s dynamic demands, bringing life to otherwise static statements.
The stage was set for an electrifying finale as rhythmic accuracy, dynamic explosion, and, above all, passionate lyricism combined to ultimately arrive at the composer’s hopeful vision of the human condition.
None of that for Max Bruch’s romantic “Double Concerto for clarinet and viola in E minor, Op. 88.” Written in 1911, the artistic currents of that time had moved on to modernism and expressionism. Not here. This work is only about beauty, texture and virtuosity placed in the utterly capable hands of music festival faculty Jon Manasse (clarinet) and Toby Appel (viola). These two have spent a lifetime taking lessons, being coached by masters, and playing in orchestras and ensembles so that the musical sounds they produce enter the world without any sense of effort.
With Yoo’s orchestra achieving the all-important goal of calling no attention to itself, Manasse and Appel engaged in a courteous and sensual musical conversation that could only be described with two words: precious and delightful. For 20 minutes, the troubles of our planet were completely out of mind.
Igor Stravinsky’s 1910 contribution to the legendary Ballet Russe is based on a story. That story is about paralyzing, insidious evil being defeated by a supernatural being, leading to freedom and love for all. And so it was that Yoo and his band were charged with riding the wild storm that is the “Suite From the Firebird (1919)”. Here is a portal into the burgeoning modernism of the day with a score that makes significant demands on orchestra, conductor, and listeners.
The orchestra was magnificent. Each of its sections projected its own personality, and the bold images of the composer were there for all to revel in. Special mention must be made of Zach Fung on cello, Elise Kim on flute, Olivia Chaikin on piccolo, and Susannah Greenslit on French horn. Guest artist Tanya Jilling easily managed the composer’s spectacular scoring for harp.
Best of all were oboist Timothy Swanson and bassoonist Ian Schneiderman, whose pensive dialogue in the gentle penultimate Berceuse helped to set up the inevitability of the Finale. Yoo then carefully guided his players to an inspired realization of one of the richest rewards in all of music — the spectacular final bars of the ballet. The crowd went crazy.