Heatherington, Ars Viva soloists bring fresh approach to Mozart

Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 11:21 am

By Wynne Delacoma

If it’s late January and the lines are long at the box office, chances are somebody is playing Mozart.

Such was the case at Sunday afternoon’s imaginative concert by Ars Viva, one of Chicago’s many distinguished smaller classical ensembles, at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in north suburban Skokie. The classical music world faithfully celebrates Mozart’s birthday every Jan. 27th, and Ars Viva observed this year’s 255th anniversary with an all-Mozart program.

Music Director Alan Heatherington has attracted a sizable number of Chicago Symphony Orchestra players to his chamber orchestra. Two of them—David Taylor, Ars Viva’s concertmaster as well as CSO assistant concertmaster, and Charles Pikler, principal violist for both Ars Viva and the CSO—were soloists in a zesty performance of the Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat. Lyon Leifer, the ensemble’s principal flute, was soloist along with harpist Marguerite Lynn Williams in the Concerto for Flute and Harp. A deeply felt performance of the Symphony No. 29 closed the concert.

Founded in 1996 on the ashes of the Chicago String Ensemble, Ars Viva has a strong, loyal audience, and its concerts can feel like family gatherings. That was certainly the case on Sunday. The orchestra has launched a program for youngsters titled Music for Life in partnership with the Music Institute of Chicago. The aim is to expose children to live performance. The children come to Ars Viva concerts, listen to the first piece, then leave the hall to talk about what they heard.

It was touching that one of Mozart’s greatest hits, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, opened the program. This overly familiar work for string orchestra can be a humdrum affair for music lovers who have heard it countless times, in elevators and as a cell phone ringtone as well as in the concert hall. But with the children happily applauding after each movement, it was impossible not to hear the music with fresh ears. Ars Viva played it with loving care. Their phrasing was clean and crisp yet warm and supple. Their tone was pared down, but Mozart’s melodies bristled with color and energy.

The Concerto for Flute and Harp is Mozart’s sole piece featuring solo harp, and Williams made the most of its succulent melodies and virtuoso turns. Her tone was assertive and luminous, full of golden hues. Leifer’s flute was fleet and strong in the upper registers, though its lower register tended to disappear into the overall orchestral texture.

The Sinfonia Concertante is one of Mozart’s masterpieces, and Taylor’s violin brought a sweet tone and elegant, expressive phrasing to its lilting melodies. Picker’s viola was more matter of fact, though he and Taylor sailed in effortless unison during the work’s virtuoso passages.

Under Heatherington’s direction, the Symphony No. 29 was light on its feet, unfolding with a serene ease that allowed the music room to breathe. With first and second violins sitting opposite each other, we clearly heard Mozart’s musical conversation as melodies and motifs jumped from one section to the other. Despite a few bobbles, Ars Viva’s horns added a commanding sinew to the orchestral mix.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m.. Monday at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston. arsviva.org; 847-673-6300.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Heatherington, Ars Viva soloists bring fresh approach to Mozart”

  1. Posted Jan 31, 2011 at 2:21 pm by Bob Quigley

    This orchestral experience is the best there is. Magnificent music, intimate setting, color commentary by the Maestro brings the appreciation of the composer and musicians to an all time high. I love it. And it is so inexpensive and easy to get to.

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