Contemporary North American Repertoire
On A Recent European Tour

by Mark Davis, Music Director

On July 9, 1999, twenty-three members of the Providence Mandolin Orchestra touched down in Munich, Germany, and began a ten-day concert tour which would establish many personal contacts with European mandolinists and guitarists, and would present to the European community the PMO's new and largely original contemporary repertoire.

We were met at the airport by a smiling gentleman carrying an old mandolin tied to a tall stick - Mr. Egbert Nobel, leader of the Munchener Mandolinen-Zirkel. That afternoon the PMO toured Munich together with members of Mr. Nobel's group and also members of Oliver Kalberer's award-winning Roggenstein Ensemble. Together with these groups we were to be involved in the 'Oberbayerisches Zupforchester Festival', presenting a workshop and two concerts in Eichenau and Munich. All members of the PMO were hosted by members of one of these ensembles.

The opening concert at the Festival (click to view the concert program), in the Eichenau community hall, was a grand success with many in attendance. Opening the concert was a well-trained youth orchestra, the Jugendzupforchester der Kreismusikschule Furstenfeldbruck, ably directed by Inge Kalberer. The members, who appeared to be between the ages of eight and sixteen, performed with great technical facility and musical expression, leading many of us to wonder who is doing this sort of thing with young musicians here in the US.

Next followed an all-women's guitar orchestra, also directed by Inge Kalberer, performing pieces by Napoleon Coste and John Dowland. After the pause, the Munchener Mandolinen-Zirkel performed delightful works by Menichetti and M. Macciochi.

Last on the program was the PMO. We started with our arrangement of Andy Statman's 'Flatbush Waltz', and followed that with Walter Kaye Bauer's beautiful transcription of Debussy's 'Clair de Lune.' Next up was the 'Suite Espanola' of Ulierte. We finished our portion of this concert with the thrilling 'Ritual Dance' - the third movement from Bruce Greybill's popular 'Walnut Valley Suite.' The audience seemed transfixed by the PMO's performance, and gave us a very warm reception.

Arno Preiser, critic from the Muenchner Merkur, wrote about our performance:

    The rhythmic precision and verve, and the broad spectrum of tonal color that this group of amateurs and professionals was able to create was truly astonishing. Like a lynx, conductor Mark Davis led the orchestra with great care, bringing all the instruments into a smooth, harmonious unity.

    In particular, the listeners got to know "Flatbush Waltz" named after the New York City neighborhood, with a virtuosically executed crescendo leading down to a whisper in a forest of strings.

    Debussy, inspired by the stimulating moonlight loved by the Romantics, wrote the piano piece "Claire de Lune", which the mandolin orchestra used to create romantic impressions. Insight into the aforementioned bandurria tradition was given by "Suite Espanola" by Enrique Ulierte. There was even anexample that showed that members of the orchestra are composers as well.The strong and persistent rhythm of "Ritual Dance" was performed with the greatest precision."

    --Arno Preiser, Muenchner Merkur

Finally, we put together the combined ensembles for a grand finale, performing both Robert Martel's 'Sky Colored Lake' and Owen Hartford's 'Family Squabble.' The audience responded vociferously to the success of these excellent pieces.

The following day's program, given in the exalted surroundings of the Amerikahaus Hall in Munich, showcased quite different works(click to view the concert program). The Munchener Mandolinen-Zirkel led off with their Menichetti - 'Une Fete a Chateau' - and then gave a good reading to contemporary Munich composer Herbert Baumann's evocative 'Sakura.'

Then followed the Ensemble Roggenstein, which has placed first in the German national plucked-string ensemble competition. They performed - with great delicacy, precision and beauty of tone - three arrangements made for them by Oliver Kalberer. The 'Two Intermezzi. op. 199/1 and 117/1' of Johannes Brahms, were particularly engaging. In these arrangements, Mr. Kalberer has transcribed the sweeping arpeggios of Brahm's piano pieces in such a way that the notes flow across his ensemble from section to section, without any noticeable variance in either tone or dynamic. Many of us from the PMO observed this striking effect with our mouths hanging open! If there was a fault to this group's performance, it was that each of the three pieces - by Brahms, J.S.Bach, and Carlo Gesualdo- sounded equally elegant, understated, and refined, but without distinguishing characteristics as to era or genre, and without much depth of dynamic or emotional expressiveness. However, it is in the beauty of their sound and their outstanding ensemble work that this group really excells!

The PMO next presented Owen Hartford's 'Cornflakes 14,' Robert Martel's new suite 'Wrung from the Silence,' Debussy's 'Clair de Lune,' and Hankus Netsky's moving Klezmer concerto 'Chagall's Mandolin' featuring Robert Paul Sullivan of the New England Conservatory as soloist. We finished with a version of 'Pedra Terra,' transcribed from the playing of the great Brazilian mandolin group Cuerdas Dedilhadas de Pernambuco.

The Festival Orchestra then presented Oliver Kalberer's 'Machine II,' an aggressive and challenging study which uses rock-like rhythms, and the lovely Vivaldi E minor concerto. We again brought the concert to a rousing finale with 'Sky Colored Lake' and 'Family Squabble.'

Travel on to Geissen


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