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The HRO now has a young, disciplined, and demanding conductor who likes good music (the music I like) and insists it be played well.
For his first concert, the HRO's new conductor Dr. James D. Yannatos chose a difficult program: Berlioz' Overture to "A Roman Carnival," Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.
His difficulties and successes with the Bartok revealed most about him as a conductor. In the sursurrant introduction. Dr. Yannatos signaled the instruments playing different lines to enter precisely, without rushing. Avoiding the temptation to romanticize here, he enhanced the romantic appeal of the later movements.
In the fourth movement, Bartok follows a humorous polka-like dance with a very schmaltzy singing theme played in the string section. Dr. Yannatos conducted the polka without frivolity and plunged straight into the succeeding theme.
He made me realize for the first time that perhaps Bartok, writing this concerto at the end of his life to appeal to a broad public, was secretly laughing at those who would be attracted merely by the sensuousness of the song.
Dr. Yannatos' performance allowed for such speculations. It was, I think, slower than the performances of many other conductors. While permitting the listener to hear things he may not have heard before, this leisure may also prevent the music from gaining momentum. Bartok's decomposition of the first three movements into sections or episodes could require the conductor to speed up if he wants the movements to sound coherent.
Dr. Yannatos had working with him a better HRO than I have heard in a long time. In prolonged soil, the brass choir and the woodwinds (especially the oboe) never faltered. Except for a little vagueness in some of the viola and bass soli, the strings sounded professional.
Dr. Yannatos was not pampering the orchestra. His spare style of conducting left his left hand almost unused. The rest of him seemed so firmly in control that the orchestra never wandered.
Those who couldn't come to the concert or didn't read the program notes should know that Harvard stole Dr. Yannatos from the music department of Grinnell College in Iowa on the recommendation of Leonard Bernstein, a former teacher of his Dr. Yannatos was recently appointed Music Director of the Chautauqua Summer Music School.
He thus combines top musical competence with a knowledge of how music is meant to educate in a college. His first concert Friday makes the rest of the HRO's season something to anticipate with pleasure.
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