Mandolin Orchestra Concert at Mattapoisett Congregational Church

By Robert Chiarito

Autumn is a wonderful time for music lovers here on the Southcoast. Between now and the holiday season, the arts calendar is filled with world-class performers playing dates throughout the region. On Sunday night, October 28, the Mattapoisett Congregational Church welcomed the Providence Mandolin Orchestra to Reynard Hall for an evening of stringed delights.

Originally the concert was to include a dual performance by the combined talents of the PMO and the Ensemble a Plectre de Toulouse. The French orchestra was not able to make their scheduled appearance due to an Air France strike that left the musicians stranded on their native soil. This did not, however, diminish the night's entertainment in any way as the ensemble from Providence gave an outstanding performance of compositions that spanned the history of the mandolin and its many musical cousins.

The Providence Mandolin Orchestra, under the supervision of musical director Mark Davis, is one of the nation's leading mandolin orchestras. The group performs on a regular basis throughout Southern New England and also makes many national and international appearances. The thirty-piece ensemble has been in existence since 1971 and was founded by the late Hibbard Perry. Mr. Davis said that the group carries on the tradition in honor of their founder and former instructor who mentored many of the members of the Orchestra during their student years.

Sunday's performance was one of pure aural pleasure. In an evening that included a program full of superb performances, the PMO saved some of their finest efforts for several pieces that had personal connections to the ensemble. Orchestra member Owen Hartford penned two of the selections performed by the group while Director Davis composed a third. The night's musical highlight was a rendition of a composition by the late Japanese composer, Yasuo Kuwahara, "Song of Japanese Autumn." In introducing the piece, Mr. Davis said, "This is a composition by someone who we considered a friend. A person we lost too soon and we'd like to perform this 'Song of Japanese Autumn' in his honor."

The song gave the audience a full idea of the width and breadth of the sonic capacity of a mandolin orchestra, which is not unlike that of a chamber ensemble. Alone, a mandolin is a quiet instrument. When combined with other like instruments and complimented by musical cousins the mandocello, mandola, classical guitar and bass, the sound is rich and full. When played by a group as talented as the PMO, the music soars and shimmers in an impressionistic arc of sound. At the end of the Kawahara piece the audience let out a collective gasp with several people saying: "wow!" ... such was the beauty virtuosity of the music they had just heard.

The Mattapoisett Congregational Church performance was one of many scheduled during the Franco-American Mandolin Festival. The eight-day celebration of plucked instruments also includes dates in Connecticut and Rhode Island. The Providence Mandolin Orchestra hopes that the Ensemble a Plectre de Toulouse will be able to join them for a scheduled performance at St. Martin's Church in Providence on Saturday evening, November 3 at 8:00 pm. Mattapoisett's inclusion in the festival came at the invitation of the Rev. Dr. Virginia White, a mandolin player herself, who offered the PMO the chance to perform at her church after she attended one of their concerts.

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