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by Robert Rollin

SAKATA-TomokiLast Saturday night the Youngtown Symphony opened its season with an excellent concert of Romantic audience favorites. The evening’s highlight was a scintillating performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43 by the gifted Japanese pianist Tomoki Sakata. Sakata was a finalist and the youngest competitor at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Rhapsody, among Rachmaninoff’s most popular works, utilizes as its theme the final movement of virtuoso violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Capriccios, Op. 1 for solo violin. Rachmaninoff composed twenty-four variations and produced an imaginative composition that groups them in three parts analogous to the three-movement structure of a piano concerto. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Robert Rollin

COLTON-KendraThis past Saturday evening the Youngstown Symphony presented the season’s last classical music program with a twentieth-century musical emphasis. Soprano Kendra Colton served as guest artist for the evening in a performance of Samuel Barber’s poignant Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

American composer Samuel Barber was born in Pennsylvania to a well-to-do family. He was a prodigy who started studying composition, voice and piano at the Philadelphia Curtis Institute of Music at age fourteen. At twenty-five he won the prestigious American Prix de Rome and a Pulitzer travel abroad scholarship to study in Europe for the 1935-36 season. He later won two Pulitzer Prizes in the course of his illustrious career.

Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a southern American impressionistic musical portrait, sets a text by novelist, poet, and screenwriter, James Agee. Agee and Barber, both about the same age, suffered through the loss of their fathers around the same time, so Barber was drawn to this extended, flowery text that approaches poetic language and to its prose stream of consciousness. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

FAIN-TimothyLast Saturday night’s Youngstown Symphony concert, billed as “Celtic Glory,” should more properly have been called “Scottish Glory,’ since it presented an interesting program of three very different works, unified only in their connections to Scotland and its music. The term “Celtic” properly refers to modern peoples, descended from the ancient Celts and speaking Celtic languages, including the Irish, the Scots of the Scottish highlands and Hebrides, the Welsh, and the Bretons. Celtic languages and traditions are so varied that conductor Randall Fleischer was wise in limiting himself to music related to Scotland.

The liveliest and perhaps most topical piece was An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise, by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the only living composer on the program. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

MartinLutherChurchYoungstownThis past Sunday the Youngstown Symphony, directed by Randall Fleisher, played its third Stained Glass Concert at the Martin Luther Lutheran Church, one of the city’s most beautiful places of worship. This new series, instituted last year, involves visits by a small orchestral core to area churches, and interaction with local ensembles. The stunning sanctuary gave the impression of an old European church, with a delicately latticed hand-carved wood altarpiece.

The concert amounted to a lively mélange of short classical chestnuts combined with some popular pieces. The afternoon’s highlight was the performance of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus by the Martin Luther Lutheran Church Chancel Choir accompanied by the Youngstown Symphony. Anthony Ruggiero, choir director, had prepared the small group well. The lovely gentle choral sounds melded beautifully to the accompanying strings.

The performances of two movements from the Vivaldi Four Seasons were just as wonderful. Concertmaster Calvin Lewis served as the soloist for Spring, and the other violins divided to depict individual birdcalls. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

DONG-Fei-FeiThe Youngstown Symphony presented its second Powers Auditorium classical concert on Saturday evening, October 19th with a fine and varied program. The evening’s highlight, an excellent performance of the popular Edvard Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16, featured the young and remarkably talented Fei-Fei Dong as soloist.

Dong, a first-prize winner of the Schumann International Piano competition for Young Musicians, the Asia-Pacific International Chopin Piano Competition, and the Steinway and Sons International Youth Piano Competition, has debuted with orchestras in New York, Paris, Hong Kong, and Aspen, Colorado. She was also a finalist in the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition.

The first movement, Allegro molto moderato, after its short timpani roll opening, immediately presented a brilliant piano cadenza performed by Dong with steely precision and poised expression. She showed great rhythmic control and played her solo passages masterfully, but without being overbearing or excessively forceful. Conductor Randall Fleischer maintained careful control of the musical flow—always shaping the evolving interplay of horn solos, cellos, other members of the orchestra, and the piano solo. After the cello section theme restatement, Dong returned with a flashier cadenza replete with terrific muscular playing and lots of decorative trills. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

SEGEV-InbalWhat captivates me about Avner Dorman’s cello concerto is that it is so different than anything I have done before,” cellist Inbal Segev enthusiastically remarks over the telephone. “It is definitely on steroids. The first movement really hits you. The last time I played it, people jumped because they were not expecting a classical piece to sound like that. But it does grip you right away.”

On Saturday, September 21 at 8 PM in Youngstown’s DeYor Performing Arts Center, Inbal Segev will give the Ohio premier of Avner Dorman’s Cello Concerto with the Youngstown Symphony under the direction of Randall Craig Fleischer. The concert also includes Glinka’s Overture to Russian and Ludmilla and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Composer Avner Dorman is quickly establishing a presence in Northeast Ohio, having recently been named Music Director of CityMusic Cleveland. He describes his piece as “a concerto for a cello that forgot it was a cello,” and Segev quickly agrees that it is unlike anything that she has done before, adding that “Avner is a great guy and of course his music is great too!”

The story of how the concerto came to be is a real case of like minds being in the same place at the same time. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

FLEISCHER-RandallCraigSaturday night’s Youngstown Symphony concert in Powers Auditorium was an absolute delight, as the Symphony performed two contrasting masterpieces: Nikolas Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherazade, Op. 35, and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major. Op. 73. The many differences between the two works made the evening, the last of the season, especially memorable.

Scheherazade is a marvelous programmatic piece with four episodes in the Sultana’s succession of a thousand and one tales which enthrall the Sultan so much that he forgets to execute her as he had all other wives after their wedding nights. Through her guile and storytelling skill, Scheherazade survives and becomes his permanent bride. The composer used the concertmaster’s solo violin to portray Scheherazade’s story-telling ability and as a means of uniting all four movements, not only with musical timbre, but also with Scheherazade’s theme. Read the rest of this entry »

—a conversation with Mike Telin

Time for Three (photo: Journey Group)

Time for Three premiered Christ Brubeck’s new concerto for two violins, double bass and orchestra with Randall Craig Fleischer and the Youngstown Symphony on March 20. We spoke with the trio by conference call at a radio station in Harrisburg, PA to talk about Time for Three and the new concerto.

Nick: Hi Mike, this is Nick Kendall, one of the violinists.

MT: Yes, we met a couple of weeks ago right after your Oberlin concert.

NK: Yea, that’s right. We have the other guys here as well.

Ranaan Meyer: Hello this is Ranaan, nice to meet you.

MT: Nice to meet you too

Zach De Pue: hello it’s Zach

MT: Hello.

ZDP: You know I lived in Cleveland for a year, and I still have my Browns season tickets.

MT: Do you?

ZDP: Yes I do

MT: Wow you are one of the few who has bothered to keep them.

(lots of laughing) Read the rest of this entry »

—a conversation with Mike Telin

On Saturday, March 20, Randall Craig Fleischer conducted the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and Time for Three in Chris Brubeck’s new concerto for two violins, double bass and orchestra. We talked with the composer by telephone about the new piece.

Mike Telin: You are in Ft. Meyers Florida, with the Gulf Coast Orchestra?

Chris Brubeck: Yes, they are doing the piece I wrote called Quiet Heroes. So I am around for advice, and my buddy on this project Wilfred Brimley will be narrating, and it’s a triple bonus because I get to visit my dad. It’s much better for him here than taking the chance of slipping on the ice back in Connecticut where he used to live.

MT: Yes I just read about this piece on your website, in fact you have a number of interesting orchestral projects happening.

CB: Yes, I think they are interesting. I try to do a couple every year, although almost all of my energy during the past year has been focused on the new Time for Three piece. We are at the countdown to its birth, since I started it nine months ago.

MT: Yes, this sounds like a very interesting piece. I know it was an eight-orchestra commission, but who was it that approached you about being the composer?

CB: Well, to me anyway, it is an interesting and funny story. First, I am not sure if you know that I wrote a violin concerto for Nick Kendall, who is one of the three of Time for Three. But, so much credit needs to be giving to Randall Fleischer, the music Director of the Youngstown Symphony, the Anchorage Symphony and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. I’ll tell you the whole story.
Read the rest of this entry »

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