For the past four years, the Mainly Mozart Festival in Coral Gables has ended its summer concerts of chamber music with a multimedia, multidisciplinary finale that includes video, guest artists and world premiere dances choreographed by a member of the Miami City Ballet.
For as ambitious as that sounds, it’s a workable formula. Audiences show up in large numbers on a late June weekend at the Knight Concert Hall in Miami to be immersed in things such as Liszt’s Dante Symphony (2015) or a tour of national homelands (2014).
This year, the theme was The Jewish Bride, told in six parts linked to the ceremony and accompanied by an equal number of new dances set to music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bloch, Soviet composer Alexander Krein, and the contemporary Ukrainian-Israeli composer Boris Pigovat. The dances, featuring six members of the Miami City Ballet corps, were created by Adriana Pierce, and the whole thing was tied together with poetry and narration by Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz.
Chefitz’s premise, much repeated, that “from nothing, something comes,” and it was presented in an immediately cosmic way, with references to the age of the earth and the endlessness of the stars, accompanied by Hubble space telescope photos of galaxies (with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, inevitably, played in the background).
But it was all brought back to terra firma through a focus on the parts of the wedding itself, from contract to celebration. Chefitz, sitting at a small table with reading lamp and books, opened one of them to read meditative thoughts on each part of the wedding, then closed the cover for the dancers and the music. If his space metaphors were a little too much, he did make a nice connection between stellar and linguisitic multiplicity (“Hubble, bubble, bobble, Babel,” he said), drew laughs with a mock tweet from God presented on the big screen above the stage, and stressed the act of creation in the union of two people.
The dances were direct, vivid and busy. Pierce is good at making dance relationships look persuasive and enticing, and she was helped here by the luminous Jeanette Delgado, one of MCB’s standout dancers, who took center stage in the “Chuppah” section with an ecstatic, joyful solo. The presentation, which began with “Romance,” (set to easy-listening Shostakovich from his ballet The Gadfly) centered on a couple, danced engagingly by Alaina Andersen and Eric Trope. The other dancers — Alex Manning, Luis Silva and Christina Spigner — were every bit as good, and indeed, this was a very effective choreographing of what was primarily an ensemble piece.
The dances were accompanied by a piano quintet ensemble featuring festival artistic director Marina Radiushina at the piano, violinists Eli Matthews and Stacey Woolley, violist Chiara Dieguez and cellist David Alan Harrell. Joining them in memorable fashion was the Israeli clarinetist Moran Katz, who has appeared in a previous Mainly Mozart season and is as adept at klezmer as she is at canonical masterworks.
Katz contributed a wildly klezmeric arrangement of “Let’s Be Happy,” a traditional Jewish klezmer tune (for the fourth part, “Ketubah”) and was also leading the charge in the closing “Freylekh,” set to Pigovat’s Jewish Wedding. She is a player with a great deal of presence and technical prowess, and her work had authenticity along with its sheer excitement.
The repertoire reflected the proceedings well, and in addition to hearing rarities such as Krein’s Sketches on Hebrew Themes, the Knight audience also heard some fine Prokofiev (Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34), and the Bloch “Prayer,” the first piece in the suite From Jewish Life, beautifully played by Harrell.
It was a fascinating program, and expertly executed. Each of these finales over the years has explored fruitful territory for thought, but their real success depends on the music. As long as Radiushina is able to find good things to play as the foundation for exploration in different art forms, these presentations will always be welcome.
The Jewish Bride took up the second half of the concert. The first half featured three works showcasing Radiushina and the string players, beginning with Matthews, who played the Variations on an Original Theme (Op. 15) of Henryk Wieniawski, a showpiece and nothing but. Matthews, a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, played it with full-on verve and dazzle. He started out hamming it up a little too much in the opening solo bars, but then settled in for a strong performance, with some nice touches amid all those fireworks such as a good sense of swaggering rhythm in the waltz variation.
Next came a true rarity, the Aubade for string trio of the Franco-Romanian composer George Enescu. We don’t hear much Enescu these days, and it’s a pity, judging by this charming, short piece. Enescu was a splendid violinist, and he had a fine ear for string color, which is what this piece is all about. It has a catchy, folk-like theme presented against a pizzicato backdrop that gives it a flavor of Renaissance lute-picking at dawn, and Woolley, Dieguez and Harrell gave it a tasteful reading.
The first half closed with a complete performance of the Piano Concerto No. 23 (in A, K. 488) of Mozart, in which Radiushina was accompanied by a string quartet playing an arrangement of the orchestral score by Geoff Loff. She is an excellent pianist in every important way, and her skill is one of the things that makes Mainly Mozart work as well as it does. She’s the essential glue in the operation, without whom it would not regularly reach the first-rate levels it does.
Although the acoustics were wonderfully close and precise for the string players, the piano, just a few feet back, sounded somewhat blurry, which detracted somewhat. Radiushina’s tempos were brisk, and her technical accuracy spot-on. Her playing was outgoing and forceful in the two outer movements, and in the beautiful minor-key slow movement, she performed with restraint and purity, an effect in which she was aided by the small forces playing with her.
The quartet handled Loff’s arrangement with aplomb, and the concerto sounded wonderful even in this reduced arrangement. The very large audience at the Knight gave Radiushina vociferous acclaim, which, for this Mozart and the successful presentation of a complex program, she richly deserved.