It became apparent from before the start that the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra’s choice of an “Eight Seasons” format for its November concerts was popular. This on an evening when it felt as though we have but two seasons now: summer and winter separated by teasingly brief intervals of spring and autumn.
Beforehand, a long line of music appreciators moved patiently toward and into the acoustically pleasing sanctuary of the Easton Church of God for the performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” But before a note was struck, MSO board president Jeffrey Parker scotched any rumors that might ensue regarding the conductor-less concert they were about to witness – not unusual for a chamber orchestra. “I assure you, Michael Repper is still with us,” he said of the music director who made an auspicious debut at the September season opener at Chesapeake College’s Todd Performing Arts Center and will return to the podium for holiday concerts next month. The 15 strings-only musicians were led by example and cues from the evening’s guest soloist, Russian-born violinist Igor Yuzefovich of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and, after moving to the United States and earning advanced degrees at Peabody Conservatory, played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Without a syllable of introduction, Yuzefovich launched the program with the beloved Spring concerto of Vivaldi’s 18th-century “Four Seasons.” Those whose only exposure to this masterpiece are a few chords amplifying myriad scenes in movies, TV miniseries, or commercials might say to themselves, “Oh, I know that one” – even if they think maybe Vivaldi is a sports-car brand. Of course, this audience was more attuned than that. But the sonnets were written, perhaps by Vivaldi himself, to accompany or clarify what became known as “program music” are included in the concert program: “Springtime is upon us” Da-Da DA Duh-Duh DA . . .
Vivaldi’s “Seasons” concerto is divided into three fast-slow-fast movements. The slow pianissimo segment features a viola and violin call-and-response with harpsichordist Bozena Jedrzejczak Brown providing soft textures suggesting a nap in a newly flowering meadow. The third movement celebrates the season with a festive dance pastorale.
Leaping two centuries forward, Piazzolla’s Argentinian Summer introduces the tango-meets-modern-jazz portion of the program. Here the tempo emulates torrid heat with searing violins led by Yuzefovich and concertmaster Kimberly McCollum, foreshadowing thunderous cloudbursts accented by the lower strings’ lightning strikes.
Vivaldi’s Summer follows a similar path with far different arrangements in the soft breezes of ensemble strings dotted with chirping violins suggesting songbirds until the second and third movements prestos roar with the growling and plucking staccato of violas, cello, and bass.
Buenos Aires Autumn arrives with pizzicato stomping to a tango dance beat accompanied by cellist Katie McCarthy’s sonorous solo sitting in for Piazzolla’s instrument of choice, the accordion-like bandoneon. Violins take over in solo and ensemble configurations to flutter like falling leaves in a tree-swaying zephyr.
After intermission, Autumn resumes with Vivaldi’s lilting harvest revelry segueing into a post-celebratory slumber. The awakening allegro opens with a march-like theme of hunters on the prowl signaling a fearsome rustle of strings pointing to prey fleeing for their lives. Spoiler alert: On a downbeat note, it seems that not all survive.
Winter comes to Buenos Aires with the guest soloist evoking somber anticipation of long, dark nights, alleviated by a flickering acceleration that heats up to the crackling fire of all strings on hand. Vivaldi’s winter counters with shiveringly tremulous violins and fierce winds howled by violist Yuri Tomenko, bassist Chris Chlumsky, cellist McCarthy and lower-string accomplices.
The concert concludes where it commenced: In spring, fittingly so because Spring in the Southern Hemisphere is Autumn here, north of the Equator. McCollum introduces the season with a restless theme picked up by Yuvefovich and the entire string ensemble in a Bach-inspired counterpoint leading to a torrid ending punctuated by a harpsichord tingle of chill in the air.
A standing ovation without a word spoken, from first note to last – a post-election blessing.
Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra
Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”
Repeat concerts: Epworth United Methodist Church, Rehoboth Beach, 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, and Community Church, Ocean Pines, 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13; midatlanticsymphony.org
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts critic now living in Easton.