By T. Stephen Wager
In these days when so much strife is to be found seemingly everywhere in the world, the genesis of any new orchestra is a unifying element to the human spirit. This was how Thomas Wolf described it on August 27 during the opening celebrations of Fenimore Chamber Orchestra at its debut concert.
Mr. Wolf is Chair of the Governing Board of Directors. Certainly, many in the capacity audience at historic and beautiful Christ Church in Cooperstown must have felt the same. A sense of wonderment at the fact that Fenimore Chamber Orchestra was founded during a pandemic also pervaded the afternoon. This is no small feat considering many musical organizations folded during the pandemic. It is, much to the contrary, a tribute to the vision and tenacity of Mr. Wolf, Director of Operations Rosemary Summers and Maestro Zoltowski, not to mention the Governing Board of Directors.
“Each member of the orchestra was referred by a colleague and chosen to become a member of the orchestra thereby creating a truly elite ensemble made up of some of the finest musicians in Upstate New York, musicians who could play on any stage in the world,” he said.
“We are the beneficiaries of such an opulent abundance of talent. It was gratifying to hear an orchestra play as if they were particularly chosen for the momentous task. Each section played as one voice attaining a high level of emotional involvement and astonishing polish without ever losing the sense of pitch and immaculate intonation.”
All of this was due to the considerable orchestral building wizardry of Maestro Maciej Żółtowski. The elegant juxtaposition of “storm and stress” of much of the afternoon’s music can, in less capable hands, come across as tedious. On this occasion, the beauties of the relatively unknown works by Haydn and Mozart were neatly put on display with a never-faltering sense of orchestral proportion.
“As one example, in the overture to Haydn’s L’Isola d’Isabitata, a work unfortunately almost completely unknown, there is a moment that calls for the violins to make an exceedingly precarious, very soft and extremely high entry,” Mr. Wolf said.
The entry was delivered as one voice and as only the best of orchestras can expertly execute. Adding to all of this, as befits the Concerto No. 2 in D Major for Flute and Orchestra by Mozart, Norman Thibodeau offered a brilliantly supple solo flute rendition without any of the garish mannerisms and without any of the vicissitudes that can befall less endowed flutists. Befitting the music, and regarding something unfortunately less heard in these days of supposed “performance practice,” Mr. Thibodeau offered deft, gentle and stylishly pertinent embellishments that brought a smile to this already smiling music.
Maestro Żółtowski displayed his appreciable ability to accompany and nurture a soloist to great musical heights. After intermission, the audience was treated to Five Greek Dances by Nikos Skalkottas. These are delightfully charming works redolent of the Greek isles.
The orchestra seemed to enjoy themselves as well and provided every turn in the dance repertoire that Maestro Zoltowski asked. Haydn’s great Symphony No. 34 in D Minor was chosen to bring the program to a conclusion. This opus simply requires a virtuoso orchestra; nothing less than exceptionally gifted virtuoso players will suffice. Here, conductor and orchestra were in complete agreement as to the exceedingly brilliant second movement as well as the Presto assai of the last movement. The two slower movements were also provided loving touches that never wavered from the requirements of the great Haydenesque andantes. One’s breath was simply taken away.
One could go on and on regarding the felicities of the afternoon and the conducting in particular. A new Orchestra led by Maestro Żółtowski is indeed a rare and historic jewel in the already considerable crown of artistic offerings in Cooperstown. The capacity audience, obviously having enjoyed itself, rewarded Maestro Żółtowski and Fenimore Chamber Orchestra with an enthusiastic and prolonged ovation at the conclusion of the concert.
We look forward with great anticipation to more concerts by this very stylish and elegant orchestra!