The Eastman Philharmonia presented an unusual concert on Oct. 24 in the Eastman Theatre.

The concert opened with the premiere of Vera Ivanova’s “Variations on Chords – Distances,” which was followed by Ernest Bloch’s “Schelomo, Hebrew Rhapsody,” with cellist Christopher Dingstad performing the solo. After intermission, the orchestra performed Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7 in A Major.”

Russian composer Ivanova, a graduate of the Moscow State Conservatory and the Guidhall School of Music and Drama in London, is internationally recognized as an emerging artist of great talent.

The Eastman School of Music’s Sproull Fellowship, which is being applied towards a doctoral degree, and the Howard Hanson orchestral prize for “Variations” are only her most recent awards, although others include honorable mentions as the 28th Bourges Electro-Acoustic competition, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ Morton Gould Young Composers’ Awards and third place at the Eighth International Mozart Competition in Vienna, Austria.

In her program notes for “Variations,” Ivanova explains how the title “reflects concisely the core of the piece, which uses the two opening chords, instead of a theme, as the initial source and point of departure for a series of variations.”

Unfortunately, the orchestra had only three rehearsals of this piece during the entire three-week rotation period. Its lack of preparation and confidence were obvious, especially for those audience members who could follow a printed score.

The time deficiency meant that the strings divisi parts were not assigned until the day of the performance and there was not a single run-through of the 10-minute work until the dress rehearsal.

Conductor Clay Greenberg gave clear beats and correct tempos, but most of the intricate voice relationships and important dynamic contrasts within the piece were lost as the orchestra members struggled to play the correct notes at the right time.

This performance did not do justice to Ivanova’s music. One might wonder why this complicated and demanding composition was not devoted an equal amount of attention and rehearsal time as the other works on the program.

Ernest Bloch’s cello rhapsody was, in contrast, very well rehearsed and performed. Regrettably, neither conductor Neil Varon’s nor the orchestra’s musicianship skills could hide the deficiencies of the piece itself. Composed in 1917 by 37-year-old Bloch, this work exemplifies not only a series of romantic clichs but also a complete lack of intelligent orchestration.

The poor orchestration forces the orchestra to play as softly as possible in an effort to make the high register of the cello solo audible, but only twice did Dingstad’s beautiful tone and intonation clearly cut through the orchestral octave doublings, which resemble those in sophomore-level orchestration exercises.

Dingstad – who has been a guest soloist of the Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra – performed the rhapsody as the winner of the Eastman Concerto Competition, playing with the taste, confidence and skill of a complete musician.

The demands of this piece, while technically quite difficult, did not demand much musicianship, and could not match his level of artistry. The climaxes of the work are more loud than dramatic, and are given to the brass choir instead of the soloist.

A well-deserved thunderous applause congratulated cellist Chrisopher Dingstad, conductor Neil Varon and the Eastman Philharmonia for making the best out of this composition.

Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7” constituted the second half of the concert and, after the exhausting first half of the concert, was accepted with the relief of a well-known old favorite. The performance was not precise in every detail, but it was exciting and energetic. This concert was well programmed, as it included a student composer’s work, a student soloist and a popular piece for orchestra.

The audience was much larger than it is usually for student orchestra concerts. The fact that the concert was attended by Ivanova’s and Dingstad’s friends and colleagues could encourage the Eastman ensemble department to continue to feature the school’s young emerging artists.

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