Tuesday, April 15, 2014

University of Indianapolis faculty end their season with a smooth display of collegiality

If the way they performed together Monday night is any indication, the music faculty of the University of Indianapolis is a most harmonious group.

I will not inquire too closely what goes on at their faculty meetings in order to preserve my pleasant notion of a "peaceable kingdom" reigning over the DeHaan Fine Arts Center. The "Season Finale" concert was probably a public display of an estimable rapport among musicians associated with the department through full- and part-time teaching there.
Three musicians: Anne McCafferty, Harry Miedema, Anne Reynolds.

That's not to omit Nick Tucker, one of the stellar graduates of UIndy's jazz program, which has been shepherded into eminence by Harry Miedema, who retires at the end of the current school year.  A tenor saxophonist of wide professional experience before getting into academia, Miedema has consistently raised the visibility and substance of jazz education at the Southside school. To boost its public profile, he has put together in recent years a season-long jazz concert series culminating in the annual Jazz Week, recently concluded.

Bassist Tucker and  Miedema combined for a program-ending duet, Miles Davis' "Solar," a jazz standard for nearly 60 years. After an interwoven out-of-tempo introduction, the compatible duo launched into the tune.  The performance was relaxed, swinging, affectionate and no doubt a mite nostalgic.

Piquantly heralding that performance in the otherwise all-classical program was Charles Ives' "Largo" for violin and piano.  With its folkish theme, elaborated unpredictably and with some agitation, the composition shares a rough emotional and stylistic affinity with jazz — though of course it is in no sense jazz.

Typical of Ives, even in its reflective main section, the piece is too idiosyncratic and flavored with dissonance to take a mollycoddling approach to its material. Violinist Austin Hartman and pianist Richard Ratliff showed a seamless partnership throughout.

Hartman and Ratliff opened the concert, with cellist Dennis McCafferty, in Haydn's Piano Trio in G major. The three displayed well-coordinated lightness of touch, resilience and gracefulness that served the music well. Without overemphasis, they brought out the score's imaginative variety.

The program's other instrumental work involved five UIndy-associated professionals playing a woodwind quintet by Paul Hindemith. "Kleine Kammermusik", op. 24, No. 2, has maximum craftsmanship and minimum charm, like much of the German composer's output.

Over the course of five crisply characterized movements, it has some amusing effects. It must be fun to play. But it is granola-bar music to listen to. Flutist Anne Reynolds, oboist Pamela French, clarinetist Cathryn Gross, hornist Darin Sorley, and bassoonist Mark Ortwein invested their performance with as much charm as the score seems to offer. My takeaway from it was delight in the solid ensemble rapport that typified the whole program.

Four Brahms duets brought together department chair Kathleen Hacker, soprano, and Mitzi Westra, mezzo-soprano, assisted by pianist Elisabeth Hoegberg. The singers blended well, and they never missed a trick expressively. When "Klosterfraeulein" (The young nun) wistfully addresses lambs in springtime, Hacker and Westra were buoyant in sympathy.  The series of joyous rhetorical questions in "Die Boten der Liebe" (The messengers of love) conveyed pure focus on the loved one, carried along by an excess of rapture.

As the temperature plunged outside and flurries approached, it was good to be reminded by such a performance that the season of love and renewal is surely upon us.