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MUSIK-IN-DRESDEN.DE :: May 19, 2012

"Heart of Europe" with a Pacemaker  from Overseas

The young Curtis Symphony Orchestra enlivened the first days of the music festival--a short European tour now follows.

Michael Ernst

[Article in German]

The opening on Tuesday: Curtis Symphony Orchestra with Brahms. A chamber music marathon on Thursday: Curtis Symphony Orchestra with Brahms and Beethoven, Haydn, and others. The dance theater on Friday: Curtis Symphony Orchestra with Bernstein and Bartók. And the slogan of this year's Dresden Music Festival: "Heart of Europe". But the Curtis Institute of Music, founded in 1924, is in Philadelphia, in the eastern US. And yet on these days the youth orchestra, whose musicians are between 14 and 22 years young, was the "Orchestra in Residence" of the Vogler Days in Dresden. 

Maybe the students, provided with full-time scholarships, were lured to the old world as pacemakers , but not only did they put on acclaimed concerts here, they even proved they could already be mentors. A series of students from the Heinrich Schütz Conservatory will surely be grateful to them for that. 

But above all, a first-class orchestra has been shaped at this elite educational institution that--here under the musical direction of Robert Spano--has nothing to fear from European lifeblood. Because the most important thing is: full commitment. Regardless whether it's Brahms, Bernstein, or Bartók on the conductor's stand, the young musicians try to live up their aspiration to be among the best of the best. Highly developed tonal awareness, an impressive playing culture, and unbridled energy could be Curtis's trademark. And yet the process is lively: the orchestra members are excited and even make the occasional blunder; it's ironed out with a smile, no problem. 

"Enthusiasm and the right attitude"--those are the virtues that he's learned from his fellow Curtis Institute students, says violinist Ray Chen. "Curtis is one of the few places that can prepare you for the real world of a touring soloist..."

The unified theme of the opening concert seems more debatable. The evening could have been more accurately titled "Do you love Brahms?"--and the so-called welcoming remarks from local and regional politicians would surely have been forgotten just as quickly. Their insipid platitudes stood in sharp contrast to the expressive approach with which Robert Spano set out to navigate the festival overture, double concerto, and second symphony. Using minimal caesuras, he could have done more justice to the acoustic space of the Frauenkriche with a bit less muddiness, so numerous attacks were still overlayed with the preceding notes. These resonant turbulences also didn't belie various subtle touches that could have been intonational possibilities. However, the soloists Ray Chen and Jan Vogler on violin and cello were still assailed with abundant sympathetic acclamations.

During "Let's Dance!" in the Messe, the cellist was back in his position as director of the music festival and thanked the resident orchestra. The young stars from the Delaware River bid farewell to their residency on the Elbe with the "Fanfare for Sam" by David Ludwig--grandson of Rudolf Serkin, born 1972, he payed homage with this filmic piece of music to Samuel Barber, who left Curtis in 1934--, the symphonic dances from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein, and Bela Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra. But they accompanied a high point in this year's festival program, because, following Stravinsky's "Firebird" from two years ago, choreographer Royston Maldoom once again filled Dresden students with enthusiasm for the dance theater: To this moving concert piece from Bartók's exile in New York, he achieved nothing less than inscribing the biography of Hungary into the language of the body.

That was very well received by the sizeable audience. The pulse emanating from the "Heart of Europe" has not been restricted to the continent for some time; instead it is, at least culturally, moving the old and new worlds one step closer together. 


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