The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra opened its 2019 Summermusik season at the SCPA’s Corbett Theater with Visions of Da Vinci. The program included music by Torelli, Vivaldi and Handel, and either world or Cincinnati premieres of compositions by Michael Nyman, Ludovico Enaudi, Hans-Peter Preu, and Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic.

Addressing the audience at one point during the evening, conductor Eckart Preu alluded to how difficult it had been to program this concert. The parameters were to assemble a two hour-plus program honoring the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death and to find one or more pieces to showcase the talents of Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, the featured solo percussionist.

The concert opened with the Concerto Grosso in G Minor, opus 8, no. 6 by Giuseppe Torelli familiar to some as the Christmas Concerto. While images of Leonardo’s The Adoration of the Magi showed on three screens, the members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra played the concerto’s three movements (listed in the program as four) without pause. Confusing but not consequential.

The next composition in the concert gave two movements from the Concerto Suite from Prospero’s Books, the 1991 film starring John Gielgud. Titled Cornfield and Miranda, the selections gave an idea of Michael Nyman’s compositional style: a kind of European minimalist version of the hyper-American Adams-Glass-Reich styles. The composition called for sustained playing primarily from the strings and the orchestra responded with powerful playing.

Next, and again in a similar minimalist vein, a Cincinnati premiere by Ludovico Enaudi titled Experience once more called for relentless energy from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra musicians, who played enthusiastically

Fourth in the program, A Mysterious Message, a work commissioned from Hans-Peter Preu, the maestro’s brother, had for its premise the deciphering of a hidden musical phrase hidden in Leonardo’s The Last Supper.

Liquid Video Solutions created the large-scale projections of canvases by Da Vinci, that included, in addition to The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa, and The Adoration of the Magi, a painting of the young Christ, and a couple of drawings with mirror-writing by the Master.

Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Piccolo in C Major arranged by Dame Evelyn Glennie for marimba brought on stage Serbian percussionist Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic. The three-movement gem from Vivaldi’s Il Giardino Armonico is a test in dexterity for any woodwind player: for a percussionist translating Vivaldi’s intricacies into music that uses four mallets and a set of wood blocks to make its point is just about miraculous.

In the second half, the guest soloist returned to play on the xylophone the Cincinnati premiere of his own Rondo da Vinci for marimba and orchestra. Zivkovic dazzled the audience with his virtuosity yet never lapsed into antics, but merely played with focus and commitment as simply one more member of the ensemble.

George Friederic Handel’s Water Music is a set of three suites for orchestra. Eckart Preu programmed the F Major and the D Major Suites, from which he chose five selections from the first one and the entire second one. This was a wise choice to end the evening, with Handel providing joyful, celebratory music that gives the various sections of the orchestra plenty of opportunities to stand out, and the section leaders some nice solo work. Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer set the tone for the entire string section with all the Baroque must haves: controlled vibrato, razor sharp attacks, precise double-dotting, and clear embellishments.

Throughout the concert orchestra members enjoyed some wonderful solo moments. Second Violin section leader Manami White did gorgeous work in the opening Torelli concerto. Cellist Patrick Binford had a stunning solo earlier in the evening. Mark Ostoich created haunting oboe sounds in the Water Music. And, at the end, the arrival of Brooke Ten Napel and Melvin Jackson’s horns and Ashley Hall and Wesley Woolard’s trumpets added the right quotient of Handel brilliance to the ending Bourée.

Keeping the evening from stylistically wandering to and fro was challenging, given the unconventional nature of the program. But Eckart Preu kept things ebbing and flowing with his genial but firm command of his forces. The young maestro moves comfortably from the film music of Nyman and the New Age sounds of Enaudi to the atonalism of Zivkovic and on to the Baroque elegance of Vivaldi, Torelli and Handel. That alone qualifies him in most books and certainly in mine as a conductor to take notice of. Cincinnati has noticed and embraced him.

Rafael de Acha


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