What does a multilingual ambassador of classical music eat for breakfast? The question really is: where does the busy ambassador eat breakfast? When you take an artistic director of a symphony who helms a Guest Artist Series with full orchestra during the regular season, hosts a Summerfest Concert program trekking with an internationally acclaimed chamber orchestra across Florida and the Americas every summer to expose adults and children to our universal language (music), while creating humanitarian aid to children at risk through his art, you wonder how he has time to eat at all.
The Symphony of the Americas (SOTA), which calls the Broward Center for the Performing Arts home, boasts Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese as its artistic director, our uber conductor. He has been connecting the musical dots between Europe, the U.S., and Central and South America through SOTA since its inception 25 years ago. As part of this current Summerfest Concert series, Brooks has peppered the Mission Chamber Orchestra of Rome with a few of his pros from SOTA offering an ambitious program, aspiring given the size of this chamber orchestra being only 1/5th the size of a customary orchestral ensemble. The 20 musicians, color coordinated in fashionable black, seemed more a ragtag amalgam of players than one might expect from a heady classical bunch – pedigrees Italian, Swiss, Serbian, Cuban, Georgian (the country), and Milwaukeean. However, they navigated the symphonies of C.P.E. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn and a pastiche of works in between with skill and lively interpretation.
C.P.E. Bach’s Symphony No. 2 in B flat major with its almost familiar melody was propelled into the evening with a clean opening from MCO, competently navigating its three movements. Brooks introduced each successive piece with a factoid or pithy anecdote, remarking, for example, how Arcangelo Corelli set the standard for violin performance during the Baroque, as evidenced in his Concerto grosso Op. 6 No. 5, the MCO violinists (led by excellent Concertmaster Orlando Forte) heading the charge, the supporting voices answering the violins in the hearty center of the work. Marilyn Maingart, accomplished Flute Soloist, was delightful with her arrangement of Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for flute, strings and piano. Her tone pure and her piercing high notes, which could have easily been shrill, landed pleasingly in the ears. Maingart, trim with long blond hair in a long black dress highlighted with silver threads, exhibited great concentration as she navigated her entire pipe with polished dexterity. The mellow opening quickly moved into a jaunty bounce, Maingart weaving naturally through the acrobatic runs and tempo changes, her sound emerging at times like a pirouetting ballerina. Having studied with Jean-Pierre Rampal, performing with James Galway, and as principal flutist in multiple Broadway pits, Maingart’s caliber was no wonder.
The stand out piece, “Tarantango” for Piano and String Orchestra, came from MCO’s Artistic Director, Lorenzo Turchi-Floris, who not only composed the work but was the featured pianist for this American premier. Turchi-Floris later explained that he wanted to compose a piece where he could combine a musical form that was loved by Italians (the Tarantella) with one loved by Americans (the Tango). The tall composer sported an easy demeanor; his long thin fingers swayed this piece from start to finish with great agility. The composition moves fluidly from a tarantella into a relaxed middle and out the other end with a pleasing tango, the two styles twisted together in an elegant helix at the piece’s conclusion. The strings first acknowledge the piano hinting a tarantella, the strings then dance, the piano following their lead, they all then dance together, swirling and agitated, the center grinding to a halt, as the lower voice of the piano grunts and trails into a pleasant reverie. A solo violin approaches the piano with a casual tango, the orchestra and keyboard soon moving sensuously together, climaxing, then calming, the piano and orchestra pounding forward, the tarantella theme revisited at the satisfying finish.
An English Suite for String Orchestra (Perry) with its lively frolic, Borodin’s Nocturne For String Quartet No. 2, the familiar honeyed theme framed with agreement as it moved through the different string voices, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 10 in B minor with its opening adagio morphing into a lively run, demonstrated the diverse breadth of MCO’s notable ensemble.
The Mission Chamber Orchestra musicians are graduates and faculty members of distinguished European conservatories, performing often for the Vatican.
Having studied with Pablo Casals and Leonard Slatkin, Maestro Brooks leverages his considerable acumen to not only expose youth around the world to classical music but for humanitarian purposes as well. He heads now for Panama (his birth place) where he will deliver music to 7,000 children and donate the concert’s proceeds to buy milk for underprivileged kids.
Symphony of the Americas concerts have been captured and broadcast on PBS. For information on upcoming Summerfest performances in south Florida, visit www.symphonyoftheamericas.org