Reviews

The Gateway Chamber Orchestra Presents:
Mahler's Resurrection Symphony

by Joseph E. Morgan, Music City Review

May 4, 2022

On April 23, the Gateway Chamber Orchestra presented Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (No. 2, 1894) in the Mabry Concert Hall at Austin Peay State University, Clarksville. Mahler’s “Resurrection” is a rarely heard masterpiece of epic proportions—a work typical for GCO’s standard performing repertoire. Indeed, the symphony is written for a huge orchestra, chorus, soprano and alto soloists, but the CCO performed Gilbert Kaplan and Rob Mathes’ splendid adaptation for a smaller, lithe orchestra. Yet, under Wolynec’s baton, and even with a reduced orchestra, on that evening Mahler’s enchanting timbral world was manifest with a remarkable clarity, stirring the imagination.

The first movement begins with a somber funeral march that is grim and dour, in a rough-hewn key of C minor with apparitions of ghosts in the gentle references to the dies irae. Here Mahler seems to echo both Beethoven and Berlioz, but in a richer, multitextured counterpoint. The blend of the chant in the horns and the dotted figure in the strings was majestic and proud in the face of catastrophe. Leader Robert Waugh led the trumpet section through this classic excerpt with grave authority. In Mahler’s prescribed 5-minute pause after the first movement, the GCO wisely took the opportunity to (re)tune.

In his death, the hero remembers a life lived with its happy moments and others, perhaps less so. This is the topic of the second movement with its gentle ländler (a German folk dance) finding occasional pauses in sad nostalgia. Flautists Lisa Wolynec and Angela Reynolds deserve special mention for their delightful counterpoint to the string’s pizzicato second theme and Maestro Wolynec blended them quite well. It was warm and well done, however, it was in this movement that I missed Mahler’s huge orchestra—it reached for the pastoral but felt more a stylized version of the idea.

Principal Emily Crane and the rest of the strings brought out the next movement’s babbling brook with bubbling verve and a delightful col legno. An instrumental setting of Mahler’s lied Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (St. Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fish,”) the third movement was simply delightful creating a wonderful distraction that, as the orchestra ascended to the final frenzy—the famous “death schriek”—created a quite exhilarating effect.

The third and fourth movements, both essentially pastoral, contrast well with each other in tempo and style, but together they stand in great contrast to the spirituality of the fourth movement. The movement is an essay on the Romantic philosopher/wanderer, the Pietistic struggle for personal salvation written in the beauty of a single rose, it is one of Mahler’s most intimate and beautiful moments. Mezzo Teresa Buchholz sang with a mesmerizing timbre balanced brilliantly by the brass chorale from behind and below. Excerpt:

O Röschen roth!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Noth!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht’ ich in Himmel sein!

O little red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest suffering!
How much rather would I be in Heaven!

In the fifth and final movement, Mahler presents a grand and grandiose sonata form with a recapitulation realized, indeed made incarnate by the chorus. Further, the entire movement itself is a recapitulation or even a dénouement of ideas presented in the first movement—particularly the dies irae. Soprano Penelope Shumate sang beautifully, she was the hero to Buchholz’s philosopher. Douglas Rose’s chorus, immaculately prepared for yet another mammoth work this season, brought the symphony to its heights with not only a fantastic intonation, but a responsive dynamic that left the room breathless. It seems that the GCO is done for the season with this concert, but there is an event, tantalizingly titled ‘BBQ, Brews and Beethoven’ on the website. The three Bs? I’m down!

With Golijov's ‘La Pasión,’
Gateway Lifts Every Voice in Clarksville

by Joseph E. Morgan, Music City Review

March 26, 2022

On March 19-20, Gregory Wolynec brought his Gateway Chamber Orchestra (GCO) to the beautiful Mabry Concert Hall at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville to perform the rarely heard La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion According to St. Mark), composed in 2000 by Osvaldo Golijov. This epic work needs to be experienced live; it is a multivalent, intertextual work sung in Spanish and Aramaic, featuring a score that combines instrumental, choral, song, dance, and dramatic expressions in several Latin, African, European popular and classical styles performed by over 54 voices (with 8 soloists) a battery of percussion instruments and a small orchestra. In an amazing evening, the GCO gave an astonishing performance of this captivating and inspiring music.

Golijov composed the work as a result of a request from the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart in 1996, seeking to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the great German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. He initially conceived it to pay homage to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. However, Golijov chose to depict … “a Jesus that is as true as Bach’s but has so far remained for the most part unheard […] a dark Jesus, and not a pale European Jesus” setting “Jesus’ last days on earth seen through the Latin American experience and what it implies.” Of course, Golijov’s work is part of a broader expression of the spell that J.S. Bach has held over contemporary Hispanic composers–Heitor Villa-Lobos’ collection Bachianas Brasileiras are just one famous example.

Golijov’s Passion is set in 34 movements grouped into two parts, roughly divided before and after the arrest of Jesus by the Romans. He creates cyclicity, unifying separate movements and parts, from the outset by incorporating musical reminiscences of the crucifixion in the opening  Visión: Bautismo en la cruz (Vision: Baptism on the Cross). The style of this movement, along with the second movement, is Latin inspired, but largely in Golijov’s advanced quartal language electrified by extensive syncopation and inventive orchestration. Golijov’s orchestral genius, (demonstrated early by the electronically enhanced accordion and the quaking strings of the first movement), and Wolynec’s inspired maintenance of balance were the headline of the movement, allowing the piano (Stephen Kummer) and guitar (Chip Henderson) to support without drowning out the berimbau (a Capoeira instrument) at the front of the stage. Paciencia, the dancer playing the berimbau and dancing Capoeira (with just a touch of break) showed a remarkable charisma throughout the evening. As the Fisherman, and several other roles, Reynaldo Gonzalez Fernandez also deserves special mention for his vocalizations and captivating portrayal of Christ.

As demonstrated by his employment of Capoeira, with its place on the boundary between fighting and dancing, the styles that Golijov incorporates into his work are consistently employed in ways that apply their original function. Another example is in the three Announcements (Numbers 3-5). All feature a Batá ensemble (a three drum percussion section common from in the Santeria practice) played extraordinarily well by principal Mikael Ringquist, Marcus Santos and David Steinquest. Indeed, along with Joshua Graham and Joshua Hermantin, the entire percussion ensemble displayed an unimaginably diverse knowledge of styles and instruments throughout the evening. Here, the three numbers of the Announcements lead through a section that seems to connect to the African storytelling drum tradition and leads back to the Santeria inspired sound before finally climaxing in a mesmerizing, improvised, “storm” for the Batá drums. It is worth noting that Golijov’s collage of genres (Santeria, Capoeira, Flamenco, Cuban son, Samba, Gregorian chant, etc etc) are no less meaningful than Bach’s Arias, Recitatives and Choruses. Each in its own way becomes a culturally significant post-modern expression of the underlying text of Christ’s passion.

Soloists Luisana Rivas and Penelope Shumate each brought a differing, yet equally powerful presence to the stage. Rivas, particularly in the flamenco inspired 13th number Quisiera Yo Renegar (Aria de Judas), sang with a heart-rending expression from her softly dark but quite resonant voice. Penelope Shumate, in the next number, Eucaristia, carried a lighter, stoically graceful soprano that soared above the women’s section of the choir that accompanied her.

Drawn from the Gateway Chorus, soprano Ninfa Garcia’s performance in the 8th number was downright riveting while tenor Giulio Garner coupled a very personable stage presence and a beautiful, trumpeting tenor. Douglas Rose and Wolynec’s chorus was immaculately prepared for the evening with precise intonation and a marvelous, blended diction. While the drama required the chorus to often carry a serious countenance, one could tell from their sparkling eyes that they were both prepared and enjoying themselves. My favorite numbers were the last two, Muerte and Kaddish, the latter of which is a Jewish prayer of mourning that is not typically included in the Passion story. In these numbers the percussion has undertaken a minimalist tone when it eventually drops out. The piece ends with a chilling “Amen” sung softly by the entire choir arriving at a modal resolution in a major key. Silence filled the hall for nearly a minute before the audience leapt to their feet in ovation. In all, there isn’t nearly the space here to describe the many innovations of Golijov’s score, from the bullfight (No. 27) to the blank score pages (No. 21). There is just too much to discover in what may be fairly described as the first masterwork of the 21st Century. GCO deserves accolades for bringing it to us!

One of the things that I like most about living in the Music City is the abundance and diversity of musical styles that one can hear on any given night. The Nashville Symphony has long had a well-deserved reputation for being a proponent of contemporary classical music and on this very night they presented an “Evening of Firsts.” However, the ticket of the evening, indeed of the season so far, was for a concert the GCO held in this beautiful little hall in Clarksville, with too many empty seats. The Gateway Chamber Orchestra returns (to Clarksville and Franklin) on April 23-24 with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.2 “Resurrection.” Tickets are available online here: gatewaychamberorchestra.com/tickets.

Gateway Chamber Orchestra shows creative brilliance with “The Nutcracker”

by Mark Haynes, Clarksville Online

December 15, 2021

Clarksville, TN – “Magnificent, Delightful, Exciting, Fantastic,” were just some of the words used in the Austin Peay State University George and Sharon Mabry Concert Hall Sunday afternoon after the Gateway Chamber Orchestra’s rendition of The Nutcracker.

This weekend was the first live audience performance by the Gateway Chamber Orchestra for almost 2 years.

 

Conductor Gregory Wolynec presented the Tchaikovsky classic with a unique jazz spin from Duke Ellington. The talented musicians were joined on stage by members of the Nashville Ballet.

 

The performance was a combination of video, contemporary dance, and classical ballet. What was truly amazing is how the orchestra was in time with the video (video clips from the Nashville Ballet’s Nutcracker), note for note, step by step.

Arrangements were performed in both classical and jazz formats. The audience was in awe of the breathtaking performance. 

 

“This has been one of the most exciting new projects that we have ever come up with. The combination of classical Tchaikovsky with the great jazz selections made by Duke Ellington is Nutcracker perfectly designed for our community,” said Wolynec.

During the last number before intermission, artist Mackenzie Kenyon from the Nashville Ballet joined the jazz musicians. Her sultry and elegant dance moves were simply remarkable.

 

Nashville Ballet’s Lily Saito and Brett Sjoblom danced during “Grand Pax de Duex” at the end of the show. They glided effortlessly across the floor to the music while performing intricate dance moves and lifts.

All the dancers were a gorgeous spectacle to behold. The entire show was simply magnificent.

 

“The Nashville Ballet is world-class dancers and directors. Most of the orchestra has played Tchaikovsky where they have been in the pit. They have never had an opportunity to be on stage and watch this great pair dancing at the very end of the show. It was unbelievable,” Wolynec stated.

“We are just so delighted to share this with the community. The response was fantastic. Two sold-out shows. We look forward to seeing where this project grows in the future,” continued Wolynec.

 

Afterward, a special Sugar Plum Party was held for the youngest patrons. They came on stage and had their picture taken with the Nashville Ballet dancers. They also received a sugar cookie from Thistle Sweets and a Nutcracker soldier Christmas ornament.

The Gateway Chamber Orchestra will be back on stage in Clarksville on Sunday, February 13th performing the Masterworks Series: “Romantic Melodies” at the Mabry Concert Hall. Showtime is at 4:00pm.

 

The Nashville Ballet returns to the stage with the performance of “Nashville’s Nutcracker” at TPAC December 15th-24th.

* * *

About Gateway Chamber Orchestra

 

The Gateway Chamber Orchestra (GCO) is a nationally recognized cultural institution committed to enriching lives through innovative concerts, distinctive recordings, and inspiring educational programs. Conducted by Gregory Wolynec, the GCO is delighted to have two Middle Tennessee homes – the Mabry Concert Hall on the campus of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville and The Franklin Theatre in Franklin.

For more information, call 931.444.6240 or visit gatewaychamberorchestra.com.

About the Nashville Ballet

 

Nashville Ballet is the largest professional ballet company in Tennessee. Nashville Ballet presents a varied repertoire of classical ballet and contemporary works by noted choreographers, including original works by Artistic Director Paul Vasterling. Nashville Ballet and the second company, NB2 (a pre-professional training company), provide more than 55,000 arts experiences to adults and children annually through virtual and in-person season performances and its Community Engagement programming.

 

Curriculum-based Community Engagement programs bring hybrid learning dance education to community centers, colleges, public libraries, and public elementary, middle, and high schools across the state. School of Nashville Ballet brings world-class in-studio, on-demand, and outdoor dance instruction to students age 2 and up.

 

To learn more about Nashville Ballet, please visit nashvilleballet.com.

excerpt from

Unstoppable: Classical Music In Nashville
Played On Throughout 2020

by Colleen Phelps, WPLN

December 29, 2020

Gateway Chamber Orchestra Celebrates Beethoven

The 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven came and went with only a fraction of the expected fanfare. One ensemble that was still able to put together an appropriate birthday party was the Gateway Chamber Orchestra. Seeing an orchestra on a stage was a shock of normalcy for the end of a difficult year. The music selections were a balm for the soul. From George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, written to mourn the composer’s mother, to Starburst — pure joy from Jessie Montgomery during this suffrage anniversary year. And of course, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, with its pressing and pleading second movement, made for a moving selection. The symphony was premiered at a charity concert for wounded soldiers. Beethoven addressed the participants at the concert, saying:

“We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

excerpts from

Gateway Chamber Orchestra Presents:
BEETHOVEN@250: HUMANITY IN 2020

by Daniel Krenz, Music City Reveiw

December 24, 2020

The latest concert from the Gateway Chamber Orchestra (GCO) was the group’s first foray into the digital space, but you would never be able to guess it because of its high production quality.

The Lyric for Strings is a slow, lush, and beautiful movement. Gregory Wolynec and the string section of the GCO really shone in this piece.

 

The first movement’s introduction [from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7] is noble and powerful, contrasting perfectly with the lighthearted vivace. The woodwinds steal the show in the first movement; brilliant playing by each member makes the piece as lively as ever.

The second movement was dedicated to “All of the lives we lost in 2020” with the hope of brighter days to come.

Wolynec starts the group off at a moderate pace and then does a fantastic job of backing off and letting the movement unfold on its own. Conductors, especially in this movement, can become too involved and bog down the music. In a symphony all about rhythm I appreciate when a conductor can lean into the rhythms and syncopations to really bring the piece to life.

The third movement was off to a rollicking start with the violins leading the way. Again, the GCO seemed right at home with this piece. They showed no discomfort at the quick tempo and were able to dance throughout. Even through a masked countenance, Wolynec encouraged the playfulness through eye contact and smiles. I couldn’t help but smiling as well throughout this whole movement.

 

Wolynec called the last movement marked Allegro con brio “just about perfect” and made it evident through his clear interpretation and smooth music making. The GCO excelled in this work even through the difficulties of sitting spaced apart and playing through masks.

Overall, Beethoven@250: Humanity in 2020 is a great showing for the GCO.

High quality audio captured the sense of being live in the room and multiple camera angles were sure to catch all of the action.

I salute any organization that can put on a concert during these times, and especially a concert of such high quality as this one.

If you enjoy these concerts and enjoy the performing arts then I would highly recommend supporting organizations like this one.

Gateway Chamber Orchestra Presents:
ULTRA-ROMANTICISM
AT THE FRANKLIN THEATER

by Katherine Aydelott, Music City Review

October 9, 2019

Deceptively spacious and nestled between two storefronts on the aesthetic and quaint Main Street of historic Franklin, Tennessee, the Franklin Theater welcomes a vast array of events from musical theater performances to the traditional film screening. Warm, regal golds and reds decorate the interior, accentuating the intimacy of the venue to accommodate the crowd that anxiously awaits the Gateway Chamber Orchestra. People chatter excitedly in anticipation, and this specific audience is full of groups of people who are already familiar with one another, making the room feel even more responsive and pleasant.

The program for the evening of September 30th boasts an ultra-romantic offering of Gabriel Fauré, Carl Reinecke, and Franz Schubert, with the headline of “Artistry of Lorna McGhee,” highlighting the featured soloist (a series given by the organization that draws from masterful musicians across the country). With musicians hailing from the Austin Peay State University faculty to the Nashville Symphony, the orchestra itself carries so much influence and notoriety that even discounting McGhee, the audience is promised a high-caliber musical experience. President and conductor Gregory Wolynec takes the podium in preparation for the performance, but before the orchestra begins, he seizes the opportunity to introduce the pieces on the first half of the concert so that the audience has a framework for which to follow the program.

Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande, a suite of incidental music based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck of the same name, follows the titular characters through their turbulent love to their untimely demise. The central theme of the play revolves around the cyclic nature of creation and destruction for the sake of love- the beautiful Mélisande marries the galant Goloud in response to his acts of chivalry but soon after falls in love with his younger brother, Pelléas, which ultimately leads the pair to their deaths. Though Fauré hesitated to sacrifice his musical content and integrity for the sake of conforming to an external narrative (he was an absolutist in the argument that pervaded the 19th century about the purpose of music), his score sets the atmosphere for the play, even slightly utilizing the leitmotif technique, without depicting every change of character and mood.

Opening with a lilting melody beautifully executed by the violins, the first movement occurs at a spring where Mélisande has lost her crown in the water. She despairs, having left a life of turmoil and wanting no remnant of her former existence. This peaceful setting grows through an ever-ascending melody, warm sounds emitting from the strings and woodwinds, before two disruptive hunting calls in the horn, marking the arrival of Goloud. Resonant and strident, the horn calls between the rich chorales in the strings is a lovely dichotomy. La Fileuse, the title of the second movement literally translating to The Spinner, functions as an orchestral rendering of a spinning song. While the first violins spin away their expertly even sixteenth-note triplets, an interplay of double reed declarations forms the initial melody. Principal oboe Roger Wiesmeyer adeptly establishes a precedent of flowing lyricism and lush tone for all who follow to emulate. Undoubtedly the most renowned movement from this suite, though the last movement to be added, the Sicilienne not only uses prior unpublished material of Fauré’s, but has also since been adapted into works for solo cello and piano (variations include solo transcriptions for other instruments as well). Lisa Wolynec shines on flute, her sound delicate and lovely. An omission from this performance is La Chanson de Mélisande, which provides some motivic material utilized in the fourth movement, the depiction of Mélisande’s and Pelléas’ deaths. Juxtaposed over expansive phrases in the strings are marked dotted rhythms in the woodwinds that enforce the idea of a dirge. Having played much more of a background role to this point, the trumpets have a stark moment of color, Rob Waugh and Alec Blazek striking the perfect balance within the ensemble. The ending of the piece is muted and quick, portraying the fall of the hero and heroine with little fanfare and much lament.

When Lorna McGhee takes the stage, the audience falls into a trance. The sound that emanates from such a small vessel is breathtaking. McGhee fills the entire theater, commanding both the audience and the orchestra. She is literally moved by the music, and all her movement is tied directly to the musical content as she interacts with the orchestra. Her technique serves as an extension of her voice and body, working hand in hand with her musicality, and she allows every level of her dynamic playing a character and color to which she naturally associates. A staple in the flautist repertoire, Carl Reinecke’s three movement concerto exhibits much gorgeous melodic material over diverse styles and opulent harmonies. The primary theme of the first movement is a soaring gesture that winds its way through the full ensemble as the soloist remarks on these statements with conversational virtuosity. McGhee interacts flawlessly within these pairings. One of note is a duet where the violin outlines the melodic structure while solo flute fills out that skeleton with arpeggiation- Concertmaster Emily Hanna Crane and McGhee perform this so tastefully. In contrast to the sweeping Romantic ideas in the first movement, the initial theme of the second is more akin to a funeral march. This movement alternates between this metric lamentation and a more hopeful and rubato response until a final return to the first statement and a final note so clear and shimmering that one could feel the audience hold their breath. Fluid cascades of notes and virtuosic passages fill the third movement, which McGhee breezes through with ease to the concluding triumphant cadence.

Schubert’s fourth symphony closes the program. The subtitle “Tragic” was attached to the piece by Schubert himself sometime after his completion of the work (he finished this composition at the ripe age of 19 years old). Though the opening statement occurs in a minor key, the majority of the following themes and developmental sections center in major. Why he would choose the word tragic to define this work that is seemingly the opposite is unknown to this day, though some scholars speculate that he may have been trying to garner publicity for the premiere. Schubert takes influence from Beethoven for the construction of this symphony, utilizing specific thematic material in the first movement (as well as the development of this material between the first two movements) and certain compositional devices that can be found in Beethoven’s string quartets. Heavily featured in this symphony is the woodwind section with beautiful exposed contributions from bassoonist Dawn Hartley and oboist Wiesmeyer. The third movement is a boisterous romp with shifting metrical impulses and huge dynamic changes that prepares the momentum into the yearning first theme of the fourth movement. A true finale, the Allegro boasts an impressive number of notes that are carried skillfully by the entirety of the orchestra, providing an apt denouement for a concert that relies so massively on individual artistry and musicianship. Full of rich sonority and lyrical phrasing, this performance of the Gateway Chamber Orchestra uses Romance and distinct virtuosity to bestow a beautiful production upon its audience that fully showcases the brilliant Lorna McGhee.

Readers Poll: Best Classical Premiere

Jeffrey Wood’s Different Bodies by Gateway Chamber Orchestra

by Matt Fox, Nashville Scene

October 4, 2016

Gateway Chamber Orchestra’s 2015-16 season was one for the books. The Clarksville-based orchestra toured a robust schedule of more than 25 unique bills across multiple Middle Tennessee cities, secured The Franklin Theatre as an official venue partner and featured an ambitious four-part Masterworks Series showcasing contemporary commissions alongside era-defining masterpieces. Of these four commissions, none resonated quite like the world premiere of Austin Peay professor Jeffrey Wood’s Different Bodies. Inspired by poet Kenneth Sherman’s 1983 “Words for Elephant Man,” Wood’s Different Bodies interprets the struggle of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, and Sherman’s take on his complex existence. The composition channels Merrick’s dramatic story as that of a man fully cognizant of the condition that kept him a lifelong pariah. Baritone Jeffrey Williams tackled the text with complete control through stories harrowing and uplifting, delivering an impassioned retelling of Merrick’s life alongside GCO’s underscore. With performances in Clarksville and Franklin, GCO curated an emotional and engaging premiere focused on the talent in our own backyard.