Classical considerations

There was much to celebrate in the way of fine music and dance last year

NOTEWORTHY Ying Yeh (pictured) led and Opera Workshop that provided one of the year’s highlights on the classical music scene.

NOTEWORTHY Ying Yeh (pictured) led and Opera Workshop that provided one of the year’s highlights on the classical music scene.

photo by Tom Angel

Even though the existence of classical music is no longer acknowledged by the “Annie” Awards, it continues to flourish in Chico, and its celebration and advancement are good things for their broadening of our abilities to sense, feel and communicate, if for no other reasons.

Some things to celebrate:

· The new Northstate Symphony. Sure, it dealt a rather cruel blow to those who believe in community orchestras, but, augmented by “ringers” from the Bay Area and elsewhere (as, indeed, were its predecessors), it has produced some exceptionally fine music under Director Kyle Pickett. I might point to the recent performances of Shostakovitch’s First Symphony and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastorale.” The former, excitingly performed, was as ambitious as anything a local symphony has undertaken in years, and the latter, especially in Redding’s acoustically fine Shasta Learning Center Auditorium, reached out and wrapped its lush beauty around the audience splendidly.

· Some of the stars of Ying Yeh’s Opera Workshop. These include, most especially, Ricia Baumgartner, whose richly sung “Pace, pace mio dio” (from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino) projected an uncommonly focused emotional conviction that set it head and shoulders above the other performances at this fall’s presentation. I would also point to visitor Liang Zhang, whose solid baritone is great to hear (although his pronunciation of our difficult language has a long, long way to go), and the newly formed “Barbershop Quartet” (Chris Wenger, Karl Iverson, Mike Bradley and Nick King), who have added a puckish and happy spark to the university singing scene.

· Soprano Daun Hayes. Her beautifully clear voice and elegant carriage add to whatever (frequently Baroque-era) musical adventure she is involved in.

· The university woodwind soloists, especially faculty members Russell Burnham and Heidi Pintner and students Susie Lundberg and Nicole DeJean (each of whom gave fine student recitals this fall). Their performances, both within the symphony and in various small groupings, are reliably clear, crisp, in tune and engagingly spirited. Listen for them in the spring.

· The youthful, Boston-based Metamorphosen Orchestra, which accompanied fiddler/violinist Mark O’Connor in early November. Its charming and humorous conductor and its shimmering performances of two contemporary works, Dan Coleman’s Long Ago This Radiant Day and John Adams’ Shaker Loops, were stunning. O’Connor was also most engaging in a concert that was—strangely—poorly attended.

· The delightfully silly and totally enjoyable “Chico Newgrass,” a bluegrass group put together for the year-ending “Sounds of the Season” concert by Paul Friedlander. Keep it up, guys; let’s hear more of you.

And, finally, I would like to compliment this year’s much-improved Chico Dance Theatre “Showcase.” A tribute to Sue Pate’s valiant and successful effort to maintain some sort of dance program at Chico State, this year’s show moved up several notches over its predecessors in terms of variety, physicality and thoughtful choreography.

A number of dances, including Pate’s "Wayfaring Stranger," Emma Jessee and Beau Scarborough’s "Ballroom Through the Ages," JaNae Lewis’s "The Reel Thing," Julie Cosenza’s "World War II," Ryane Salkeld’s "Den of Iniquity," Hannah DeFillipes and Danielle Clements’ "Silence" and Diane Gans’ "Cowboy Take Me Away" (to name some) so thoroughly engaged the audience that the self-indulgent and program-debasing hooting and name-shouting so often heard in years past was tamed down to a minimum.