Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Caramoor's "Yale Magic"

YWAA and Caramoor, the music and arts campus in Katonah, hosted a "Magical, Musical Yale Day" Sunday, July 14.  The afternoon featured a pre-concert lecture from Yale Glee Club conductor Jeffrey Douma and a performance by the Orchestra of St. Luke's.  Yale Adjunct Professor Peter Oundjian, a popular, revered figure at Caramoor, was the conductor. 

Merrell Clark '57, '70 MAR, YWAA Chair and event-organizer, provides observations below from  a special, memorable evening, despite heat and threatening weather. The evening "gleamed with Yale magic," he writes.

Caramoor: Host of a Yale Day of Music

Despite weather warnings and high-90s temperatures, the gathering at Caramoor drew nearly 40 Yale alumni, who enjoyed a remarkable afternoon at this verdant Katonah campus, inherited from the Rosen family for the benefit of music lovers throughout the region. 

The afternoon consisted of a reception, a distinguished preview lecturer, a concert by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL). It included an internationally acclaimed pianist and an afterglow Q&A chat with the concert’s conductor.

A reception in the partially covered Garden Courtyard kicked off the events of the day. Lynne Clark provided an ample, healthy spread, including strawberries, blueberries, grapes, fig jam and Brie or diced cheeses with crackers and beverages. Iced tea, bottled water and wine were served, and sweet muffins and cookies rounded out the snacks. YWAA board directors BK Munguia '75 and Susan Kaminsky '86 assisted Lynne.

Jeffrey Douma
Director of the Yale Glee Club (and professor of conducting at the Yale School of Music) Jeffrey Douma chatted and mingled with alumni before his illustrated talk on the Beethoven Concerto No. 4, to be performed by Yefim Bronfman, a ranking Israeli-American pianist. The talk included samples of Beethoven’s concerti, played on Douma’s laptop and Bluetooth speakers, showing how key themes and progressions echoed in several of the master’s compositions.

With 15 minutes to spare, the posse of Yalies strolled across campus to the Venetian Theater for the concert and the welcoming applause for the Concertmaster, while instrumentalists toned their instruments.  Right on cue, Peter Oundjian strode to the podium in his white dinner jacket. The audience rose to greet him with raucous applause and cheers. For years, before he became the Music Director and Conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, he had been Artistic Director of Caramoor; hence, he had many old friends and admirers in the audience.

Oundjian, who has an “electric,” magnetic personality and smile, has been unusually popular with audiences from his days at Juilliard and his years as a member of the Tokyo String Quartet (whose final season is in 2013). Even while quite young in his career, Oundjian became adjunct professor of conducting at the Yale School of Music, where he continues to serve today.
Conductor Oundjian:  "Electric, magnetic"

From the stage, he recognized the applause, welcomed the audience, and then acknowledged with appreciation our Yale group, an acknowledgment that drew applause from many in the audience, in addition to our group. The Yale group was clustered together in two complete rows of orchestra center front. Oundjian also pointed to members of the orchestra who had been his students at Yale.

The performance began with a vivacious rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s Overture to “La forza del destino," representing part of the year-long tribute by Caramoor to the music of Verdi.

Pianist Yefim Bronfman then entered the stage to perform the great Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58, of Ludwig van Beethoven. Oundjian would later express appreciation of working with Bronfman over many years. The have appeared in performances together throughout the world. He credited Bronfman as a “classical” Beethoven scholar and performer, who adhered to the music literature as it was written. Bronfman, Oundjian said, avoids extremes of interpretation that become overly dramatic, possibly to underscore the myth of Beethoven’s temper. Bronfman’s performance of the difficult concerto was applauded enthusiastically by the audience and musicians.

Pianist Bronfman played Beethoven's Concerto No. 4
After Intermission, Oundjian’s baton rose over the Orchestra to prepare for Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s popular Symphony No. 5 in E, Op. 64. The work is performed often, and in 2013, performances of the 5th have cascaded from the Boston Symphony Orchestra on July 6 (at Tanglewood) and July 14 (at Caramoor) to July 19 (at the New York Philharmonic).

Ironically, as Oundjian pointed out in his afterglow talk, Tchaikovsky himself had thought the music was a loss. Possibly depressed at the time, he all but threw it out after his first performances  because of his disappointment. But other orchestras he knew performed the work. As Tchaikovsky listened to it, he acknowledged to himself, “This is a masterpiece.” Performances of it since Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893 have been frequent, with mixed criticism, but generally delightful to audiences, Oundjian said.

The Caramoor audience rose to acknowledge the brilliant performance, and applause extended through many bows and recognition of the artists. When applause subsided, Yale alumni began their pilgrimage out of the crowded theater to the Artists’ Patio outside, near the entrance where musicians enter to dress for performance. 

Clustered around tables and on benches, the group waited patiently, as professor Oundjian acknowledged his fans, friends, and family at the edge of the Artists’ Patio. With his dinner jacket gone, perspiration pouring from his face and T-shirt, he turned to the alumni with a beaming smile that lit the patio.

Caramoor in summer
Oundjian responded to alumni questions happily and with ample humor. When asked how he got to be one of the top conductors in the world, he began at the beginning, expressing appreciation for all of the leaders of the music world with whom he has been fortunate to work, ever since his days as a Juilliard student. Talking about his years with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and his role as Artistic Director of Caramoor, he expressed his joy in being able to continue as a part of the same assemblages. “These are my people,” he said. “I am one of them, and it is a joy now again to conduct them.”

When asked whether being a leader of peers was difficult, he showed how he learned conducting by using a metaphor he was taught: “To teach a horse to jump, one does not demonstrate or urge the horse mechanically; the horse knows how to jump, so it only needs to be guided and encouraged. It is the same with a symphony. All of the players know what and how to play, so the conductor only needs to guide the overall performance with broad strokes as necessary.”

After an extended period of discussion, the Yale group thanked Oundjian for his presence and inspiration.

The alumni headed to the parking lot with a sense that they had become reconnected because of the day at Caramoor and that something important had happened. By coming as a group, it was possible to enjoy one of the great musical events of a lifetime. Two major Yale musicians, plus musicians in the orchestra, had demonstrated, showed, explained, played, conducted or discussed the great works of great composers and about the process of performing, leaving a rich experience of learning and enjoyment--and a day of meaningful music to remember.

The events gleamed with Yale magic, and they extended for yet another season the 15-year partnership between YWAA and Caramoor.

Merrell Clark

A day that "gleamed with Yale magic"
(Members of YWAA who participated include Allegra Broft, Lynne and Merrell Clark*, Jan Colville, Rebecca Fenichel, Patricia Carey Fry and Richard Fry, Carleton and Kate Ingram*, Ronald and Elaine Jensen, Susan Kaminsky*, Megan Kau, Patricia Morrill, Larry and Jane Nussbaum, David and Brenda Oestreich, Jeremiah and Eileen Quinlan, Thomas Reddy and Mary Ellen Scarborough, Bob Shearer and Linda Smith-Shearer, Ed Riegelhaupt, Lily and Dana Sands*, Bruce and Eve Steinberg, Ellen Umansky*, Zidong, Philip and Zikun Yu*. 

* YWAA board directors)

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