DPO presents Concertmaster’s Choice at site of Orchestra’s birth
Viterbo is a little town among the hills forty miles north of Rome. It’s the site of a five-sided villa built in the Renaissance for the use of Cardinal Alexander Farnese. And, while I’ve never actually been to Viterbo, I have been to a building that very much resembles the Cardinal’s villa – the Dayton Art Institute.
Standing sentinel over the Miami River at the intersection of Belmont and Riverview Avenues, the 92-year-old Dayton Art Institute – or DAI – is a classical example of the Italian Renaissance architectural style that echoes the romance and beauty of the villa in Viterbo.
And the DAI is also the home of a time machine…of sorts – the Renaissance Auditorium. To attend a concert there is to step back in time to an era when grace and civility were hallmarks of a society that treasured its music and its musical heritage. And the trip begins at the entrance to the DAI.
Whether you enter from the parking lot on the Forest Avenue side or through the magnificent main entrance atop a set of two Italianate balustraded steps, you get the feeling that you are about to experience something special. Walking through either of the two high, entablature-topped, carved walnut doors to the Renaissance Auditorium, you’re suddenly transported back to 16th-century Italy.
Three tapestries adorn the Auditorium’s composite limestone brick walls, the base of which is green marble. In an opera setting for 500 concertgoers, a sloping floor makes the entire room feel smaller and considerably more intimate than its size would suggest.
The room is done in the Italian manor, with a painted ceiling of twenty alternating octagonal and rectangular Italian walnut coffers (ornamental sunken panels) with carved step molding. The four corners of the ceiling contain octagonal panels that echo the building’s design and represent the Arts of Sculpture, Painting, Music, and Literature. The ceiling’s center panel contains a dramatically lit sky scene, and the proscenium arch that surrounds the stage appears to be marble, but is actually painted walnut.
And, acoustically, there’s not a bad seat in the house.
Stand at stage center and talk in a normal tone of voice, and you can be heard clearly from the furthest points in the room. That’s the Auditorium’s finest feature. It was specifically designed for music, plays, and non-political lectures.
And the classical music heard here, totally unenhanced electronically, is the way the composers expected it to sound, the way you would have heard it had you been alive at the time of its composition. That includes not only small ensembles and chamber music groups, but full symphony orchestras as well.
In fact in 1933, two years before it formally incorporated, founder Paul Katz (then only 26) and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra (DPO) used the Auditorium to practice before performing two concerts there in June. After moving to Memorial Hall, the DPO continued to use the Auditorium as a rehearsal site until the 1960s.
On Thursday, January 26 at 8pm, the DPO will perform in the Renaissance Auditorium once more in Concertmaster’s Choice, represented solely by DPO Concertmaster Jessica Hung accompanied on piano by Zsolt Bognár (his first name is pronounced “Zholt”; the Zs sounds like the “s” in pleasure). Like Paul Katz when he first performed there, both these musicians are in their twenties.
But Jessica’s performed there before. “I performed in the Renaissance Auditorium at the Dayton Art Institute for my recital last season,” she states, “and it is a very special place.”
And she has performed in enough places to make an accurate comparison. Violinist Jessica Hung is Concertmaster of not only the DPO, but she also serves as Concertmaster of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and previously held the same position in the Chicago Civic, Northwestern University, Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), and Ashland Symphony Orchestras. She was also Assistant Concertmaster with the Akron Symphony Orchestra.
“As a relatively new member of Dayton’s artistic community, it is an honor to be part of the city’s rich cultural history and to perform live right in the footsteps of my predecessors, surrounded by great works of both traditional and modern art.”
Zsolt Bognár joins Jessica for this engagement, adding his sensitive accompanist’s skills to four works for violin and piano by Beethoven, Franck, Prokofiev, and Gershwin.
Born in Urbana, Illinois, in 1982, Zsolt carries triple citizenship in the United States, the European Union/Hungary, and the Philippines. In 2007 he was the recipient of a Distinguished Fellowship Award to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, where he worked with Jerome Lowenthal and won the Carlisle Medal from the Wideman Competition the same year.
“I first performed with Zsolt before I actually met him,” Jessica remembers. “He is a few years older than I and had won the CIM Concerto Competition, and I happened to be in the orchestra that was accompanying him on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major. I thought his playing was phenomenal – technically superb, but most importantly characterized by real emotional depth, which I value in any musician. I was so spellbound by his cadenza (long solo section) at the concert that I almost forgot to come in afterwards! Later, we met through a mutual friend and simply became good friends.”
“This is thankfully not the first time that I have worked with another soloist in a duo-recital setting,” Zsolt remarks. “Musical friendships are the most rewarding aspect of a performing artist’s activities, and a number of my musical partnerships from student days were not only rewarding, but several of my musical friends went on to hold major orchestral positions.”
Zolt has known Jessica through school for about five years, and they met through friends. “Performing on stage with friends is my favorite way to make music – it becomes about sharing,” he states, “It’s a back-and-forth between the performers and the audience. Musical phrases and ideas take on a new meaning and authenticity when heartfelt, which is so much easier to sense when on stage with a close friend and musical colleague.”
Especially in the warm, resonant ambiance of the Dayton Art Institute’s Renaissance Auditorium…
Thursday, January 26, 2012
6:30 pm, Dayton Art Institute Renaissance Auditorium
BEETHOVEN Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 4 in A minor NOTES
FRANCK Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major NOTES
PROKOFIEV Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F minor NOTES
GERSHWIN (arr. HEIFETZ) Three Preludes for Violin and Piano NOTES