Music Review: Gateway Chamber Orchestra serenades Nashville with Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’

gatewayMozart’s Serenade No. 10 in B-flat major – the famed “Gran Partita” – boasts some of the most sublimely beautiful music ever written. In the film Amadeus, Salieri first lays eyes on Mozart as the Serenade’s heavenly Adagio unfolds in the background. The Serenade immediately establishes Mozart’s genius. It also annihilates Salieri’s faith, since he realizes that God, in His infinite cruelty, granted divine gifts to a “giggling, dirty-minded creature.”

Salieri would have been supremely miserable at the Gateway Chamber Orchestra’s concert on Monday night at Second Presbyterian Church of Green Hills. The “Gran Partita” is one of Gateway’s specialties, and on Monday night, the ensemble under the direction of Gregory Wolynec performed Mozart’s masterpiece with sensitivity, style and polished perfection.

There were many highlights in the performance of this 50-minute-long, seven-movement masterwork. The second-movement Menuetto was spontaneous, with clarinetists Lee Levine and Mingzhe Wang seemingly engaged in an animated musical conversation with basset horn players Maksim Shtrykov and Scott Locke. In the famous Adagio, oboists Roger Wiesmeyer and Jeanette Zyko’s achingly beautiful lines all but stopped time.

Wolynec, for his part, led an intelligently paced performance, with each of the work’s seven movements flowing gracefully and tastefully into the next. The sound was beautifully blended, yet there was also clarity in every part of the ensemble. In short, this Serenade sang. Fanfare Magazine once referred to Gateway’s CD of the “Gran Partita” as the gold standard of serenade recordings. Gateway lived up to that standard on Monday night.

The Gateway Chamber Orchestra was founded in 2008 by faculty at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. Today, its makeup is a mix of Austin Peay music professors, Nashville Symphony players and top area freelancers. The orchestra has presented a subscription series in Clarksville for several years, and this season it has expanded its series to include concerts in Nashville.

Monday’s concert was a showcase of the orchestra’s wonderful wind section. The program began with Richard Strauss’ Serenade in E flat, Op. 7. This short, early work, composed when Strauss was just 17, is notable for its simplicity, immediacy and charm – qualities not often associated with the (future) composer of Elektra and Also Sprach Zarathustra. Gateway’s performance made this piece seem almost Brahmsian, since every note was played with warmth and deep feeling.

marvinThe big discovery on the program was American composer John Marvin’s Octet. Marvin pursued an unusual career – he was a NASA rocket scientist by day and a freelance oboe player by night. Now retired from the government and academia, he keeps busy writing appealing, idiomatic works for wind instruments. Wolynec described the Octet as “neoclassical,” but Marvin is neoclassical in the Stravinsky manner. He infuses the old forms with new harmonic colors. Gateway played the Octet’s opening Allegro with bubbling energy, and it approached the second-movement Adagio as a kind of gentle meditation. The final Moderato was colorful and unfailingly sensitive.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.