Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Before a nearly full house last Saturday (May 3), the Binghamton Community Orchestra presented “Invitation to the Dance,” a jubilant program of lively, compelling orchestral pieces for its third and final 2013–2014 concert. The program at Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City was led by guest conductor Brian DeMaris, who is in consideration for the position of permanent BCO conductor.
Works by Czechoslovakian composer Antonin Dvorak opened and closed the program, setting the tone with Slavonic Dances, No. 1 and concluding with the Symphony No. 8 in G Major, a work that is, by turns, soaring, dramatic, evocative, doleful, romantic, sweet and triumphant. I was hard-pressed not to applaud until the end of the fourth movement.
The Slavonic Dances range from the beat of a march to sweetly melodic and playful passages. The piece is lush and ethereal and punctuated by the unmistakable ping of a triangle, which, if you’re programmed that way, might compel you grab your phone to silence it (but happily, it’s not you).
Also on the program was the concert’s title piece, German composer Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, and Alexander Borodin’s Polovitsian Dances, No. 17.
The Weber is a wonderful work, more like a conversation, originally composed for solo piano and later arranged for full orchestra by Hector Berlioz. The cello is employed as the tentative but flirtatious fellow who asks a lovely lady, rendered sweetly by the flute, to converse with him and then to dance. When they part ways at the end, you realize their tete-a-tete was not meant to go any further than that one chaste encounter, complete, and beautiful from beginning to end.
My favorite work of the evening was the Borodin. Composed for the opera Prince Igor and first performed in 1890, these short pieces were later adapted for Broadway in the 1954 musical Kismet. Maestro DeMaris wrote in the program notes, “I can’t keep from singing the lyrics to ‘Stranger in Paradise’ whenever I hear that beautiful main melody.” When I heard it, neither could I. Who over the age of 50 could forget the Longines Symphonette Society ads of the late 1960s in which a suave, elderly gentleman with an aristocratic accent invited potential record buyers to hear “… the Polovitsian Dances by Borodin.” (For you younger folk, Longines was a watch and time-clock company that sponsored broadcasts of orchestral works and later sold recordings of the performances.)
The BCO is made up of approximately 50 accomplished musicians with Douglas Diegert serving as concertmaster. A complete list of orchestra members is available at http://binghamtoncommunityorchestra.org/index.php?id=orchestra, but Some of the names listed on the website are not in the program, and vice versa. In the program, BAMirror’s own Lee Shepherd is listed as keyboard harpist, Mary Diegert as principal viola, Nathan Raboy as principal trombone and Ryan Patterson as timpanist.
Potential fulltime conductor DeMaris has an impressive list of credits including serving as music director of Mill City Summer Opera, director of opera and musical theater at Ithaca College and artist/faculty member at the Aspen Music Festival. Thiss past weekend, while not leading the BCO, he served as guest conductor for Tri-Cities Opera’s performances of Die Fledermaus.