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Chamber of earthly delights
by Andrew Barbano
Sep 20, 2008 | 642 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Less than a hundred invitees showed up for Friday’s dress rehearsal for the Reno Chamber Orchestra’s world premiere of composer Joseph Schwantner’s “Chasing Light.”

The pile of unused pre-printed name badges at the front door of the reception at the University of Nevada, Reno’s student union comprised a who’s who of local officials. They really blew it this time.

After the RCO went through Schwantner’s two works (with the composer hisself interrupting the conductor with tweaks and suggestions), most of those bussed to Nightingale Hall left.

By the time the chamber orchestra came out of the closet to rehearse two Beethoven chestnuts, only 16 of us diehards were left. In my experience, a chamber orchestra is generally supposed to have less than two dozen musicians and specialize in smaller works not requiring full symphony numbers. The RCO was expanded to more than 50 for this concert, above their normal staffing of 40-something.

Those who left early missed a great show. Two of Ludwig Van’s greatest hits were smashing successes. His most famous work, the Fifth Symphony, and the ballet “Creatures of Prometheus” were delightful, making full use of the extra instruments needed to perform the more bombastic elements of Schwantner’s works. The great Hector “100 musicians is not enough” Berlioz would probably applaud the power just half that number can produce when a capable conductor evokes full concert volume.

Just watching coach — er, conductor Theodore Kuchar call the signals as the game proceeded became an interactive sporting event from the back of the percussion section out to the peanut gallery. I think RCO is going to have to budget for a whole new set of drumheads after this weekend.

Second viola Tianna Harjo informed me during a break that Kuchar also conducts the Fresno Philharmonic back in the town of my birth. He probably has a couple of my old (and getting older) compadres from the Fresno State music department under his baton down in the Raisin City.

One more performance is scheduled for 2 p.m. today at Nightingale Hall up at the U. It’s worth the forty bucks. Students and seniors get in cheaper. Call 348-9413 for availabilities.

If you can afford it, I strongly suggest that you go. You will probably never get another chance at a world premiere of an important work.

It’s uplifting in every respect. The 240-seat Nightingale Hall is acoustically excellent. The last time I was there, the far less inspiring floor show was a wrestling match between State Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, vs. future Gov. Jim the Dim, R-19th Century. The music of the night completely absolved any of the sins of follytix still residing in the building.

Ladies, if your guy doesn’t want to take you this p.m., tell him that the majority of the orchestra is female and they are all drop-dead gorgeous. So even football stud puppies who would normally spend Sunday afternoon trying to look up an NFL cheerleader’s socks will get a better eye candy fix by going to the U this afternoon.

I was especially impressed by the youthful energy of the personnel. Concertmaster (that’s code for lead violin) Ruth Lenz is all of 32. Excuse me, that’s Dr. Ruth Lenz, recently awarded her Ph.D. in music. A fourth-chair violin, a Penelope Cruz lookalike, is all of 15.

Turns out there are about a half-dozen members of the legendary local musical Lenz family in the RCO, including cellist John and featured oboist Andrea. (Elizabeth Lenz Elementary School is named after their matriarch.)

If you show up, you will see the result of Mr. Kuchar’s energetic relationship with his players, but you won’t see the entertaining way in which he builds it. We chosen few got to witness that Friday evening. Small-market orchestras never have enough rehearsal time. As an old trumpet player, I know that after an hour or two, your chops start to burn out. Kuchar had to keep his charges at work for more than three hours. He knows how to lighten the workload with a good sense of humor. Several of the musicians were smiling and chuckling at Kuchar’s moves as they played well into the night.

From the pieces I saw being assembled Friday, you will see a very tight and energetic performance today.

Schwantner’s 18-minute, four-movement “Chasing Light” commences and concludes electrically and bombastically. The RCO is also presenting his 1983 “New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom” with narration provided by city of Reno finance director, Andrew Green. Mr. Green is blessed with a great baritone voice, but the quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have become cliches and further homogenize a firebrand reformer into a bloodless statue, as has been done with Robert Frost, Woody Guthrie and so many others. Mr. Schwantner would do well to rewrite the narration to make King more relevant to today’s turmoils. Some of the passages in the work are also a bit dated, the kind of generic stuff one expects in modern American composition. But these are only small flaws in what was, for me, a magical evening of watching great art being assembled in a little music factory right here in River City.

Peace Day

If you prefer outdoor art, hie thee down to the Wingfield Park Amphitheater in downtown Reno from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today as local activists celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the United Nations International Day of Peace. More than 50 community organizations will have information tables to encourage involvement and volunteering. Entertainment includes Guitar Woody and the Boilers, Jahzilla, the Notables, SEED and more. And itas free.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, editor of and political action chair of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. He hosts live news and talk (682-4144) Monday through Friday, 2 to 4 p.m., on Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter cable channels 16 and 216, streaming at Barbwire.TV. E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since Aug. 12, 1988.
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