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IN REVIEW: Young cellist commands the spotlight

The second evening of this year’s Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival, held on Saturday at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center, continued the tradition of presenting a captivating musical program, while featuring a young, up-and-coming artist with tremendous talent and potential.

Maestro Grant Cooper led the International Baroque Soloists through an evening that highlighted both historical masterpieces and a world premiere, providing a rich and varied musical experience.

The concert opened with the Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 9 in F major written by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), featuring violinists Jeremy Hill and Aika Ito with cellist Hannah Soren. Corelli’s quirky work, a staple of the Baroque repertoire, was brought to life with elegance and precision, particularly with regard to the performers’ dynamic control. The playful exchanges between the soloists and the ensemble was truly a delight, with Hill and Ito weaving intricate patterns grounded by Soren’s warm and resonant tone.

Next, the spotlight turned to the young cellist Alexander Pegis, who performed the Concerto for Violoncello, RV 424 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Pegis’s interpretation of this technically demanding piece was both confident and expressive. This confidence was especially noteworthy during the second movement, where Pegis demonstrated his full command of tone and phrasing. The accompanying ensemble provided a sensitive and supportive soundscape, allowing Pegis’s virtuosic talent to shine. Overall, his calm sense of control and ability to convey the lyrical qualities of Vivaldi’s music were quite impressive; the audience was clearly captivated by his performance, which earned enthusiastic applause!

The first half of this program concluded with the world premiere of Serenata in Stile Antico by composer and musicologist Byron Adams (b. 1955), featuring Cheryl Bishkoff on oboe. Adams’s piece was a fascinating bridge between the old and the new; it was written in a postmodern style that pays homage to earlier musical traditions by weaving materials from the past into new tapestries of sound. Bishkoff’s oboe playing was both assured and deeply emotive, bringing out the rich textures and nuanced phrasing of Adams’s composition. This is one of my favorite pieces by Byron Adams to date, and I was particularly enthralled by the third movement. There might be a fair bit of nostalgia involved in my fondness, considering the movement seemed to take significant influence from Guilio Caccini’s “Amarilli mia bella”…a song my sister sang frequently during my formative years of musical study. The International Baroque Soloists, under Cooper’s skillful direction, delivered a performance that was both cohesive and engaging. Adams’s musical offering was met with warm appreciation from the audience, marking another successful debut for the festival.

After intermission, the evening concluded with the Symphony in A major, K. 201 written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). This symphony, a clear example of youthful Mozartian exuberance, was performed with verve, vim, and vigor by the International Baroque Soloists. After a tentative beginning, the ensemble’s playing was crisp and well-balanced, capturing the spirit of Mozart’s writing. The final movement, with its playful themes and spirited rhythms that are as close to Baroque as Mozart ever ventured, brought the concert to a triumphant close.

Saturday evening’s concert, with its blend of Baroque classics, a contemporary premiere, and a vibrant Galant-style symphony, offered something for every listener. Consummate performances by the acclaimed musicians

on stage provided an evening of superb music-making that celebrated the enduring beauty, diversity, and influence of Baroque and Classical music.

Andrew Martin Smith is a composer, clarinetist, General Manager of the Society of Composers, Inc., and Lecturer of Music at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in music theory and composition, in addition to his role as Instructor of Music Theory and Composition at Interlochen Center for the Arts, via Interlochen Online and Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Mich.

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