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Despite premiere of Hoffman work, Pro Arte falls flat

PRO ARTE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Works by Bach, Schubert, and David Hoffman.

Guest conductor, Arturo Delmoni

Kristina Nilsson, James Bulger, Nancy Armstrong

Sanders Theatre, Wednesday, April 26.

By DAVID STERN

HOPEFULLY, WEDNESDAY WAS just an off night for the Pro Arte Chamber orchestra. Their performance of Bach's Concerto in C minor for oboe, violin, string orchestra, and continuo was adequate but displayed a lack of vigor by the orchestra and occasional faulty technique by solo violinist Kristina Nilsson. Likewise, Cantata for soprano, oboe, strings, and continuo ("Wedding" Cantata), featuring a too-shrill Nancy Armstrong, suffered similar problems.

The next piece, the premiere of local composer David Hoffman's Out of the Blue, was completely fresh and engaging. Hoffman, who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School, makes minimalist music -- not the repeat ad infinitum, ad nauseum style of Philip Glass, but closer rather to the more subtle approach of Steve Reich. Out of the Blue is inspired by the blues (which Hoffman states "are in a sense a prototypic minimalist form ... employing prominent structural and motivic repetition"), but oddly it more closely resembles Debussy with its lush orchestration and coloristic use of harmony. It also had some wonderful, original effects for strings and muted horns. The music was exciting and captivating from beginning to end. I would very much like to hear this piece again.

After Hoffman's dynamic work came a rendition of Schubert's Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished") which made me shudder. The playing was sloppy and rushed, occasionally marked by intonation problems, and the dramatic nature of the piece was suppressed by the interpretation.

Pro Arte's next concert will be Sunday, May 21, and will feature Gunther Schuller (who was just appointed Pro Arte's new principal guest conductor) conducting Saint Peter, a forgotten 19th century oratorio by John Knowles Paine.