Sunday, May 3, 2009

PA Arts Sunday - What Randy Fleischer Has Done For the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra

Saturday night, Randall Craig Fleischer concluded his tenth season as music director and conductor of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. Only Maurice Dubonnet (1968-1981) held the baton for a longer span.

Fleischer inherited a highly disciplined ensemble from George Hanson, who had especially devoted attention to building the string sections to a higher level of discipline and internal cohesion. The wind and percussion playing by the ASO has been at a fairly high level for years, but Fleischer has been able to put the whole package together and steer it in an adventurous direction far more than had any of his predecessors.

Hanson was thought by some to be adventurous. He programmed both Gustav Mahler's 2nd and 5th Symphonies. Neither had been played before in Anchorage. The 2nd, especially, is a big, expensive undertaking. It was performed magnificently. Hanson, however, wasn't very interested in creating new music. The only commissioned work during his five-year tenure, was a work commissioned before Hanson was hired, John Luther Adams' Sauyatugvik - The Time of Drumming. Hanson's performance of this fascinating work, that went on to win a listeners' choice award in the United Kingdom, was wan and ill-informed. Similarly, Hanson seemed uninspired by Alaska in general.

Fleischer, though he is also music director at the Allentown (Ohio) Symphony and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic (New York state), seems to have enjoyed the Alaskan aspects of his decade here. Although he hasn't entered the Iditarod sled dog race or attempted to summit Denali, his achievements with the ASO warrant high praise.

Early on, Fleischer created a commissioning club. Each year the club, Musica Nova, provides the money for the commissioning of a new work. This year saw the sixth new work from this series, Fanfare, by the young New York City composer, Alexandra DuBois.

Two of the works commissioned, my Piano Concerto, in 2003-2004, and John Luther Adams' Dark Wave, in 2006-2007, were by Alaska composers. Additionally, Fleischer himself has provided two new, multimedia works, Triumph in 2007, and Echoes, in 2008. Both of Fleischer's new works incorporate Native American elements as their core.

For next season, Musica Nova has commissioned California composer Gregory Prechel to write Exposition on the Anchorage Museum. I suppose this is to complement the late May 2009 opening of the newly expanded Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Prechel was recently described as:

well suited to write the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra’s first commission. Mr. Prechel received his composition and orchestration training at California State University Long Beach, and has studied privately with well-known Hollywood orchestrator Albert Harris and award-winning television and film composer Alf Clausen.

Gregory Prechel has composed, arranged and orchestrated over sixty works for symphony orchestras, provided music for Disney feature films Spymate, The Lion King and Air Buddies and composed for documentaries including the film Monganga set in the Congo using authentic African instruments with symphony orchestra.

Mr. Prechel has composed, conducted, arranged, worked as recording consultant or orchestrated for television shows including The Simpsons, American Idol and Futurama among others. Mr. Prechel has also composed, arranged and orchestrated for the Walt Disney Company Theme parks, working on numerous projects including arrangements for Christina Aguilera and LeAnn Rimes for Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary.

That biographical information was provided by Fleischer's Youngtown Symphony, for program notes to their recent (January 24th) premiere of Prechel's Impressions of the Butler Institute of American Art.

This stream of new art, some of it about Alaska may be Fleischer's greatest accomplishment with the ASO. His earliest triumph was the labor of love in bringing Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps to Anchorage for the first time.

An important aspect of his growing legacy here, though, has been his attention to works by Mozart and Beethoven. Yesterday's concert began with a performance of Mozart's elegant Symphony No. 36. Earlier this past season, the orchestra performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3.

No previous ASO director has been able to get Mozart to work this well, this consistently with the ensemble. Even last night's performance had flaws, but the orchestra clearly enjoyed their own efforts, as Fleisher gave it a brisk approach, rather than the more languid Karl Bohm interpretation often taken with orchestra's of the ASO's caliber. Mozart, because of the intonation exposure it places upon the string sections, seemed in the past, to almost be disliked by the orchestra. clearly, that is no longer the case.

The other composer Fleischer has really brought home to the Anchorage Symphony is Serge Prokofiev. Fleischer has mounted the epic cantata, Alexander Nevsky. His 5th Symphony, was fairly good. Last season's performance of Prokofiev's 2nd Violin Concerto was the best performance of that work - one of my personal favorites - I've heard. Next season will see excerpts from the ballet, Romeo and Juliet.

Hopefully, Fleischer will undertake more Prokofiev, a composer for whom he seems to have a special affinity. Each year, for instance, Anchorage musical organizations get together and produce Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker as a full-length ballet. No other full-length ballet by a classical master ever gets done here. A suitable candidate is Prokofiev's hilariously comedic Cinderella.

Another work that came from the same cultural background as Mozart and Beethoven (Classical era Vienna) is Franz Schubert's monumental Symphony No. 9. Fleisher will end his 11th season with the Anchorage premiere of that work.

[I hope to begin the Anchorage Civic Orchestra's 2009-2010 season, by conducting Schubert's Rosamunde Overture and 5th Symphony, along with the Alaska premiere of Alexander Glazunov's Violin Concerto (with Walter Oliveros as soloist).]

Short of having the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra's conductor being a full time post, Randy has had far more local impact than any of his predecessors. He certainly deserves to be considered a true Alaskan for his contributions.

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