Cellist Jan Hyer: Photo by Ralph Stewart
Cellist Jan Hyer in a lighthearted moment at the Vineyard Sinfonietta concert last Sunday. Photo by Ralph Stewart

Pop goes spring

By Mary-Jean Miner - March 30, 2006

The meetinghouse of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha's Vineyard is an excellent venue for music, and for chamber music in particular. On Sunday, March 26, the Vineyard Sinfonietta took advantage of the space and, in a slight departure from their usual fare of light classical works, presented a lighthearted offering to Spring, a pops concert. The group, which features musicians from all walks of life, spans several age groups. The only qualifications for membership are a love of music and a desire to participate. For several, this may mean coming back to an instrument which may have lain dormant for years.

The current group comprises mainly strings, including Matthew Pelikan, JoAnn Ewing, Helen Oliver, and Patricia Szucs, violin; Jan Hyer and Heidi Schultz, cello; and Holly Wayman, flute. This concert also featured mezzo soprano Martha Hudson and pianist Joan Solomon. Known collectively as the Katama Consort, Ms. Solomon, Ms. Hyer, and Mr. Pelikan (this time playing recorder) performed the opening work, a Trio Sonata in F Major by Georg Phillippe Telemann. Ms. Schultz introduced the piece by saying, "Telemann would have supported a pops concert idea, even back in the 1700s." Mr. Pelikan provided the spirited melody line, and the group proved that it is time to add the Katama Consort to our list of outstanding Island ensembles.

Martha Hudson joined the larger group for "Amarilli mia Bella," by Giulio Caccini, who lived from 1551 to 1618. Caccini, who is recognized for introducing the recitative style to opera, was well served by Ms. Hudson, who gave a sensitive rendition of the dramatic work.

A Gliere Prelude, which, as Ms. Hyer indicated, was originally a violin/cello duet, provides each musician with an equal part. The arrangement featured Ms. Wayman gently duplicating the violin part, which was very effective.

Martha Hudson rejoined the group for three songs by Gabriel Faure. They ranged from a sweet, possibly bittersweet, reverie, "Au Bord de L'eau" to a darkly dramatic "Ici Bas," which described lives that are over, but remembered always; then ended with "Apres un Reve," which has been transcribed for various instruments. It was especially nice in the mezzo soprano version, as Ms. Hudson ably captured its mysterious mood.

Following this first half of earlier pops music, the Sinfonietta presented a fine collection of music from the films and musical theater. The group displayed a real feeling for these contemporary works, which included Gershwin, Rodgers, Mancini, van Heusen, and Youmans. A spritely rendition of "The Pink Panther" featured Ms. Schultz providing a cello version of a walking bass support, right up to the final "meow!" Ms. Hudson provided the vocal for "People Will Say We're in Love," and the group achieved just the right hoedown feel for the "Surrey With a Fringe on Top."

Closing with "0 What a Beautiful Morning," with Ms. Hudson singing a heartfelt, "Oh, what a beautiful day!" the Vineyard Sinfonietta once again displayed its versatility. One of the members has a sticker in the back window of her car which reads, "Come out and play with us!" And this is always their invitation. The Sinfonietta welcomes new members, even those whose previous experience may have been in school groups. They perform works that, while challenging, are not daunting. They have appeared in many different configurations, sometimes including wind instruments and brass, and are always available to play for nonprofits and for nursing homes. We salute this stalwart group and continue to encourage their work.

Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer. She frequently writes about classical music and art.