When you are told the assignment will be taking you to a Delaware Symphony Orchestra program in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel du Pont, naturally, you head for your closet to make sure you have attire suitable for such an evening. Fortunately, my companion and I kept the ball gown and tuxedo right where we left them after our last visit to the Gold Ballroom.
The Delaware Symphony’s Chamber Series, which takes place four times a year at approximately two month intervals, is not at all a stuffy affair.
The soft-seated gold chairs, sparkling chandeliers, shimmering draperies, scrolling gilt mouldings and shiny mirrors, while grand, are appropriately accented by soft lighting, dimmed further once the performance began. But not so dim that one couldn’t read the program. (If you have even the slightest ADD, having a readable program while listening to music is a welcome focus.)
The overall effect of the nearly-full room was warm, welcoming and artsy.
Back to the attire: there was fur and faux, a Navajo-print men’s blazer, sweaters EVERYWHERE (it’s December, after all) and even hiking boots. I could tell some people were just in from a dinner date or holiday celebration, and others came straight from work or other busy day activities.
In the crowd that I estimated to be around 140 people, I could see moms and daughters, singles and couples. Name badges made it apparent that this event had significant board support. Looking at the faces in the crowd, eyes closed to heighten their aural sense, or head bobbing to the music, I could see there were some serious classical music lovers in the room.
Intermission at this event stands apart from some other theater settings. Usually, one is forced to stand in line with 800 other patrons while a dozen bartenders speed-fill diverse orders of drinks and candy and nuts. Here, guests are welcomed into the foyer of the Ballroom for butlered sparking rosé, tiered dishes of signature Hotel macaroons and other bite-sized desserts, as well as coffee stations. I dallied too long chatting with old acquaintances, so I missed all but a single cookie, but I did manage to catch a server for a second round of bubbly. Next time, I’ll grab a sweet before finding an ear to bend.
It was a relatively long intermission: my guess is around thirty minutes, a full fifty-percent longer than most theaters. Especially generous considering the first half of the performance was only about 45 minutes, and the second half only 30. Had I been paying attention, I’d have brought a coffee back inside with me like other patrons did. Surprisingly, I didn’t hear a single clink of a cup on a saucer once the performance began again.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
By definition, a chamber concert is performed by a small ensemble. This featured just two performers: David Southorn and Lura Johnson, DSO principals on violin and piano, respectively. Southorn is in his sixth season as DSO Concertmaster and performs frequently with the New York Philharmonic. Johnson’s discography of 11 recordings includes a song featured in the trailer for the 2013 film, Gravity.
They performed Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8, Op. 30, No. 3, Benjamin Britten’s Suite, Op. 6, for Violin and Piano, and César Franck’s Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano.
It was such a rich sound coming from just two instruments.
The first part was uptempo, and, in fact, throughout the whole evening, there were a total of five allegros or allegrettos (both are played briskly). In the second part, Southorn introduced the march by saying something along the lines of, “It can’t hold onto anything, like a melody, just notes jutting out everywhere.”
Once it began, I mused, “Who could march to this?!”
One of the most striking parts of the repertoire for me was the lullaby. It was not so much a Rock-a-bye Baby as it was a mildly sad-sounding melody. It told my ears a story, theatrically, and sent my mind to a setting. I began picturing a La Bohéme (or more contemporarily, Rent) opera set, or Charlie Buckets’ mother’s solo in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Yet, it was definitely struck me as lullaby when it slowed and quieted at the very end.
Then, BAM. We were into a waltz. Loud start, quiet middle. If you learned to waltz for your wedding, you may have found yourself tapping your feet a little.
The first allegretto by Franck sounded very contemporary and was one part where I perked up upon realizing that the piano and violin played the same melody. The third movement of this suite (Recitativo-Fantasia, ben moderato) sounded like something from a movie—a dramatic scene, perhaps with a frantic chase leading to reunion. The fourth made me imagine a silent movie.
The performed an encore, called "Madonna, Du Bist Schöner als Der Sonnenschein,” by Robert Katscher in 1926, arranged for violin and piano by Jonathan Jensen.
One thing I learned is that there is no applause until the end of a suite, unlike musical theater, where the crowd mostly applauds after every song.
Staff remarks at the beginning of the performance were brief, and the sales pitch for upcoming ticketed events were gentle. It was surprising to hear that the DSO had another performance coming up so soon…just five days away.
The next Chamber Series is Tuesday, February 19th, and it could make for a creative Valentine’s gift. (Remember: there’s sparkling wine and dessert!)
February will highlight DSO’s percussion trio: Bill Kerrigan, Tom Blanchard, and Dave Nelson, with Kimberly Reighley on flute. You’ll hear music by Peck, Dahl, Strang, Hollinden, Glentworth, Belson, Benson, Shostakovich, Pawassar, and Harry Brewer.