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Rising on the Downbeat: Up-and-coming conductor Claire Schneeberger showed off plenty of skill and a clear vision with a focused concert of Copland and Mozart.

Yearning Spring

Claire Schneeberger renders a suitably unsentimental 'Appalachian Spring' with the Bay Shore Lyric Chamber Orchestra

By Scott MacClelland

CHALLENGING TO PLAY, Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring was a treat to hear in its original version for 13 instruments. Fortunately, the Bay Shore Lyric Chamber Orchestra (a spinoff from the opera company that bears the same name) had the advantage of Claire Schneeberger, a conductor of obvious skill and training.

The ensemble of winds, piano and strings wore its pastoral colors unsentimentally, just as the composer preferred. Schneeberger conducted the changing meters with graphic clarity, although crisper cues might have helped avoid the occasional sloppy attack that blurred articulation here and there. Out of the mix, the work's nostalgia and yearnings nevertheless rose to the surface like earth's simple aromatic gifts in the morning sun.

Ever since the mid-1970s, when Copland conducted the original score for records, the better-known symphonic suite has sounded bloated and pretentious (not unlike the finale of the Third Symphony's flatulent and undignified revision of the Fanfare for the Common Man). Not only does the original Appalachian Spring celebrate restraint and economy, but it contains important material Copland left out of the suite.

Violinist Kristina Anderson gave a polished top to the ensemble sound, along with the flutings of Teresa Orozco. Chris Jones corralled the mainstay piano part, even though it tried to get away once or twice. Save for the occasional awkward entrance, the performance overall paced itself in comfort and transparency, the conductor pursuing a clear conception of its long arching line.

Musically, Schneeberger didn't have nearly as much to say about the Mozart symphony that opened the program. The early work, she explained, was a pasticcio of movements cobbled from already completed sources. Schneeberger was content to follow the orchestra in this case; had she opted to lead it, attacks could have enjoyed more snap and the reading more vivid energy generally.

Anyone familiar with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G (K453) would have been surprised at how well the small orchestra held up its part. At the same time, the less-than-full-size grand piano made a good sonic fit with the ensemble. More important, soloist Christie Peery commanded her part with a fine touch and sure sense of style. Here was Mozart engaging in conversational repartee, complete with puns and digressions, in a most natural fashion. The orchestra occasionally asserted the parameters of structure and form, but Peery continually weighed in with her own arbitrations of taste.

The reading also reminded that Mozart began composing piano concerto masterpieces long before the famous No. 20 in D Minor. I have yet to hear a single one that wasn't at least entertaining (including those childish reworkings of J.C. Bach sonatas) and marvel in particular at the No. 9 in E flat (K271), No 12 in A (K414), No. 15 in B flat (K450) and this one. The discursive, impulsive inventions that set Mozart apart from all other piano concerto composers rightfully tempt soloists to play them as if they were being improvised on the spot. Peery may not have fully answered the call, but she certainly came close, especially in the solo cadenzas.

Now for a complaint. A gentleman brought a small, fussy child to the concert, inflicting squawks and other distracting noises on the paying audience throughout the program. When the youngster made more noise, the father carried the baby to the back of the room. More noise inspired him to move into the lobby. Nevertheless, the distraction continued from both locations. Even in the lobby, the child's cries interfered with the music in the auditorium.

By indulging themselves at the expense of the audience, these parents effectively turned a professional effort into amateur night. I believe Bay Shore Lyric owes its customers a refund, an apology and a clear indication whether future audiences will be expected to endure behavior like this from parents of small children.

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From the June 14-21, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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