The Culver City Symphony Orchestra conducted by their Artistic Director, Frank Fetta performed the final concert of their season, this weekend on Saturday night, June 14, 2014 at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City.
Titled, “Sounds of Downtown Culver City” the orchestra performed to an almost full house, which held a multi-generational audience. The Kirk Douglas Theater was a beautiful venue and showed off the orchestra’s sound with surprisingly good acoustics.
The first half of the concert featured three 20th century neo-romantic masterworks, beginning with Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City.” In this enigmatic and introspective work, the orchestra sounded frequently unsure of their entrances, and Fetta’s conducting seemed unsteady as well. However, these faults were offset by the excellent duet solos of principal trumpet, Jason Foltz and principal oboist David Kosoff.
The next work was the demanding and highly expressive masterpiece for soprano and orchestra, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” by the great American composer, Samuel Barber. The fantastic text by the late Pulitzer prize winning poet, James Agee, comes from Agee's prologue to his book "A Death in the Family." Originally composed for the late great American soprano, Eleanor Steber, it was also recorded by the legendary American soprano, Lyeontyne Price with Thomas Schippers conducting.
Barber’s romantic music for “Knoxville” at times resembles some of Puccini’s operas. The work requires a Puccini style soprano with ample voice and the ability to spin out thrilling phrasing. The singer must project to the audience in phrases such as, “squared with clowns, in hueless amber” - on music arching through the middle part of the voice - to “Now is the night, one blue dew” that ends on a high Bflat. Barber’s gorgeous and complex music divided into several sections, can pull you into a magical world that recalls the simple joys of a small American town in 1915.
Unfortunately, none of this magic occurred. Fetta’s conducting seemed focused more on keeping everyone going, rather than building the drama, paying little attention to Stinson’s singing.
Stinson's performance while correctly sung, lacked vocal color and musical nuance. Her poor diction and superficial phrasing also failed to excite. Though Stinson sings as a concert soloist in Southern California with various orchestras, her light weight coloratura voice and bland musicality was not well suited for this dramatic work.
After this disappointing performance, conductor Frank Fetta graciously invited Stinson to sing an encore. While this seemed perfunctory, Stinson's singing of Mozart’s famous bravura aria “Alleulia” did show her to a better advantage. Clearly more relaxed in classical coloratura repertoire, she smiled more, deftly singing Mozart’s rapid scale passages, though Fetta’s overly rushed tempos marred some of her performance.
Ending the first half of the concert, was Ravel’s famous “Le tombeau de Couperin.” Here, though the orchestra played with far better nuance and cohesion than in the previous two works, particularly in the woodwind section, the orchestra still sounded rambling in many of the sections. Fetta's conducting was again, sketchy at best.
After the intermission, the concert resumed with the final work, that of Josef Haydn’s Symphony No.99 in four movements. Fetta’s conducting, unlike the first half of the concert, became more involved and detailed in style, employing grander gestures and keeping everyone beautifully together. In the classical works of Haydn and Mozart, the orchestra was clearly more at home, performing Haydn’s delightful work with crispness, clarity and excellent style.
This was a surprisingly uneven concert by the Culver City Symphony Orchestra, and one that perhaps was overly ambitious in its scope. One hopes that next season's concerts will focus on works that bring out the great talents of this respected orchestra, which contributes so much to the musical fabric of our community.