Local composer and musician John Starr Jr. has hit many a home run during his career on the jazz scene. But Saturday's premiere of Starr's "Green Fields," based on the poetry of the late Commissioner of Baseball, Bart Giamatti, cemented his status as a top-notch utility player when it comes to classical music.
The piece, an all-too-brief portion of a night of music performed by the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and the Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus at St. Anne's Church, wasa melodic and contemporary styling that gave equal value to both theforms of the past and the needs of the present.
In fact, never mind labels, because they generally serve to enclose, rather than illuminate, an artist. What Starr is, and what he proves himself to be every time he steps up to the plate, is an excellent musician. Period.
The area is fortunate to have an artist of this caliber. One almost hopes the rest of the world doesn't find out, so we might keep him to ourselves.
The only quibble with Starr's portion of the evening? It was too small. I hope his future compositions for the Annapolis Chorale and associated organizations will be muchlarger.
For the most part, the chorale and orchestra were up to the level of their material, although the instrumental portion soundeda bit thin. There were almost, but not quite, enough instruments on hand to get the job done.
Still, even if they didn't hit home runsevery time at bat, they still managed to get on base consistently, starting with the opening selection of the evening, Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."
The orchestra's playing was smooth and precise, yet it seemed as though it was holding back. This is one of Mozart's more delightful compositions, and those playing it should not be constrained.
The following piece, Bach's Concert for Violin and Oboe, evinced a much better management of resources.
Soloists Donna Willingham on the violin and James Dickey on the oboe shone. Dickey, in particular, displayed a deft handling of his instrument, taking the plaintive quality of the oboe and turning it into a thoughtful meditation beautifully countered by Willingham.
The orchestra brought the piece to a wonderful close, as musical director J. Ernest Green's tight control of his musicians blended with the elegance of Bach.
Thenthe chorale took its turn at bat, performing several works by EdwardElgar, C.V. Stanford and E.J. Moeran on either side of the brief work by Starr.
Their efforts also proved something of a mixed bag, albeit one of overall high quality. One difficulty, an ironic one for the chorale, is that its high level of purity of tone and harmony tends to interfere with the clarity of the words.
Not that this reallymattered during the Stanford piece, "The Blue Bird," thanks to a marvelous soprano solo from Catherine Parker, a second-grade teacher at Key School. Parker's voice came soaring out of the music with a kind of sharp clarity that cuts deliciously to the heart. She is another artist the area is lucky to have on hand.
The evening concluded with Francois Poulenc's Concerto for Organ in G Minor, as the orchestra moved up into the organ loft of the church to be near its leading instrument.
Although this left the audience twisting around in its seats, the performance proved a riveting and dramatic demonstration of what the orchestra is capable of accomplishing.
It was here that Green's conducting enjoyed a much better balance with the energy of his musicians. If we weren't all in church, I think the crowd might have gone wild over its championship team.