By Marilyn Gold Glickman
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — The afternoon sky was clear on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 30, after the startling October snowstorm the preceding day. An even more gratifying turn of events was in store for the large audience flocking to the season’s opening performance of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Nicholas Armstrong at St. Ann’s Church, featuring internationally acclaimed pianist Dan Franklin Smith.
The concert began with Haydn’s Divertimento (Feldparthie) in B-Flat Major played by the skillful woodwind ensemble, creating a delightful, intimate feeling despite the sanctuary’s great size. Maestro Armstrong explained the significance of this piece within the program’s context: the Divertimento’s second movement, “Chorale St. Anthoni,” becomes the basis of the next piece on the program, the “Theme” of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn (“St. Anthony Chorale”).” The conductor evoked Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic as he described the unusual five-measure phrases of the main theme, beautifully demonstrated by the woodwinds.
After a brief pause to welcome the entire orchestra, they proceeded to this major work, each variation with its unique differences tied to the constant theme. As Armstrong had earlier pointed out, the changes in tempo and texture create what might be termed a miniature symphony, the first few variations constituting a first movement, the next few a slow movement, the next a scherzo, and the last a finale. The result combines lyricism and drama in the warm colors of the Brahms we know and love. Under the sensitive direction of Maestro Armstrong, all 85 members of the ensemble conveyed the many-spirited nature of this piece.
Continuing the Brahms theme, his Piano Concerto #1 in D Minor rounded out the program in a performance of particular conviction and excitement. Though just 25 years old at the time, Brahms broke through the conventional concerto form to make the orchestra an equal partner with the soloist, not a mere accompaniment. Orchestra and soloist together demonstrated the distinctive structure of this amazingly mature work in both execution and emotion.
Soloist Dan Franklin Smith has received high acclaim throughout the U.S. and in European venues including Munich, Stockholm, Brussels, Zagreb, Linz, Salzburg and more. At St. Ann’s, he performed with great technical mastery, executing the difficult passages throughout the work as the thematic material developed. But more important, he was totally connected with the nuances of the music. He acted as an instrument to bring forth the composer’s wishes, while he himself remained calm, assured and steady. The response of the full house was not surprising — applause, a standing ovation, whistles and shouts of “bravo.”
As an encore, Smith played Brahms’ Intermezzo #4 in B-Flat, Op. 76. The grand dimensions of the church instantly transformed into a much more intimate space. In the orchestra’s absence, the artist revealed a very inner, personal connection with this composer. Again the audience reciprocated with grateful applause and a standing ovation for Dan Franklin Smith, conductor Nicholas Armstrong, and the entire Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.
At the reception following the program, many of the musicians were already reminding the guests that tickets for the December performance — a family event — will disappear quickly. So a word to the wise: share this announcement with your family and friends.
Marilyn Gold Glickman studied piano, accordion and guitar at the High School of Music and Art and CUNY. She then taught music in an early childhood program in the NYC public schools, taught piano to adults in NYC and Mexico, and, among other talents, is a singer/actress in Yiddish theater.
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