Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Four Seasons’ a delight in Green Bay Symphony concert

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Four Seasons’ a delight in Green Bay Symphony concert

Guest conductor/violinist Samantha George handles the music with flair.
Samantha George
Samantha George

PHOTO: Samantha George plays a Guarneri violin from the 17th century.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – No matter how many times I’ve heard a classical music piece – in concert, on the radio or on a recording – being at a specific live concert experience is different/unique. Take Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which was the centerpiece of Saturday night’s, March 8, Green Bay Symphony Orchestra concert at the Weidner Center. Some glimpses:

Samantha George of the Lawrence University faculty is guest conducting on the evening, and she is featured violinist, with “The Four Seasons” serving as cake and ice cream for all involved. In some moments, Samantha George is about to launch into featured violin passages. She holds her precious violin in front of her perpendicular to her body. She peers at its back. The flash of that image reminds me of a star Major League Baseball player in the on deck circle as he gets ready for a big at bat. He examines his prize bat and admires the amazing grain that nature has given us. He turns his brain to READY and steps to the plate to stand and deliver. We’ve been told that Samantha George is a baseball fan, and, to me, at those moments that she looks at her instrument – the flowing curves, the sweep of the grain, the slices of nature locked into an entity she is meant to hold and play as her life’s calling – she is preparing herself to stand and deliver a series of notes held dear by oh so many people over the centuries.

You can’t get that from a recording.

Saturday’s concert was an engaging experience, from the moment executive director Dan Linssen stepped on the stage devoid of musicians to the enthusiastic splashes of applause at the end, with an added callback for Samantha George.

The concert, with a theme of “Great Music from the Olde World” as a focal point of the Baroque period selections, featured a backdrop image. The scene was of a pastoral view framed by stonework as found on the grounds of a European mansion of yore. The image evoked a feeling of place.

Dan Linssen spoke with the aid of a wireless microphone. He started the second he entered the stage at the rear and continued as he walked near a harpsichord and past a few empty chairs and past music stands for which there were no players, for the moment. He talked about the setup and set the stage for the concert and other matters of import ahead for the orchestra.

Out walked Samantha George and the other musicians, instruments in hand. Most stood and played for the concert. Again, that’s something you wouldn’t see to experience on a recording – the look, the body language some players throw into their performance, the interplay of the conductor to musicians in passages that require everyone to be of single purpose.

The orchestra players were dressed in concert black, with white shirts for the men. Samantha George was concert fashionable. For the first half, she wore a full-length gown of a purple shade suggesting, to me, near nightfall looking west on a clear evening. The sleeves, three-quarter length, were of sheer material. For the second half, she wore a red full-length gown of a velvety, flowing material. Sleeves covered her upper arm. Again, that’s something you don’t see to experience on a recording – that a principal personage has consciously dressed in a manner that tastefully sets a tone of class, of “this is a special occasion,” of “I need to express my focal role.” Very nice touches.

***

Program (“Music from the Olde World”)

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704)

“Battalia”

  Sonata

  For Dissolute Company with All Matter of Humors

  Presto

  March

  Presto

  Aria

  The Battle  

  Lament for the Wounded Soldiers

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

“Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in D major, BWV 1068

  I. Ouverture

  II. Air

  III. Gavottes Land II

  IV. Bourree

  V. Gigue

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

“The Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8, Nos. 1-4”

  Spring

    Allegro

    Largo e pianissimo sempre

    Danza Pastorale (Allegro)

  Summer

    Allegro non molto

    Adagio

    Presto

  Autumn

    Allegro

    Adagio

    Allegro

  Winter

    Allegro non molto

    Largo

    Allegro

***

 

The performance of the three works was, by and large, extremely fine (close to 5 stars out of 5). There was some awkwardness by Samantha George surrounding the end of the first two pieces – not being definite that they had truly ended. But otherwise, the experience, to mix a metaphor, was delicious.

“Battalia” is a quirky piece full of imagination. One movement is a cacophony of sounds with players creating individual “voices” in babble. In another movement, the violin and bass (a sheet of paper held on the strings) toy with sounds that foreshadow styles of two centuries down the road. Dance rhythms and battle images weave throughout in a time well past.

Bach’s suite overall casts a regal aura – from the busy, busy, busy like bees violins in the opening movement to the festive, celebratory tone of the final movement. Four of the movements are compatible, and then there is the second, “Air.” Over time, that is the one that has lasted best, that stands out. From the first strains, I found myself lost and swept into scenario… as steps progress steadily with stealth, a gossamer curtain wafts lazily in a soft breeze on a peaceful day as out the window I see lush green leaves and a few puffy clouds floating by in a radiant blue sky.

“The Four Seasons” is loaded with more such images. How did Vivaldi do it? What is it about the arrangement of those notes, placed at precise times for this collection of instruments, that creates a human response? Sections of the work, usually with the solo violin taking charge and commanding attention, are indelible. Saturday night, Samantha George and the orchestra embraced the music for the ages and expressed its heart and soul. The next time I hear a recording of “The Four Seasons,” I’ll think of them.   

REST OF SEASON: “Ode to Joy” (Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), April 12.

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. For orchestra concerts, such as Saturday night, front sections of seats are removed and a series of lifts brings the floor up to create a stage area that places the orchestra in the theater space to enhance the orchestra’s sound. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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