Louisville Orchestra Brings Classical Music Closer to Your Living Room

The Louisville Orchestra continued its neighborhood series Music Without Borders last night with about an hour of music to a full house at St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church in East Louisville. Billed as a casual concert, the orchestra played a mix of light stage music paired with a couple weightier movements from concertos and symphonies.

Rossini’s overture to “La gazza ladra” (“The Thieving Magpie”) made a strong first impression, and for about seven minutes we were listening in a 19th-Century opera house, not a church.

Incidental music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the calling card of a genius named Felix Mendelssohn, a fact underscored by Teddy Abrams in his address to the audience. Mendelssohn’s music is often confused with that of an older composer, not one who died at the age of 38. The fact remains that Mendelssohn, like Mozart, was an anomaly in human achievement. Though Mendelssohn, unlike Mozart, still rests on a second tier in our musical pantheon, coming from that period still reeling from someone named Ludwig van Beethoven.

The brilliant overture, both in intellect and luster, opens with four shimmering chords in the woodwinds, a reference to the four days and “Four nights that will quickly dream away the time,” spoken by Hippolyta. What follows is a blistering 40 seconds for the violins, at their most exposed, flittering lightly on their strings. Last night the violins held together, never out of control, but lacking the precision needed for this difficult passage, and similar ones that followed, to sound crisp. Its “Scherzo,” a jaunty interlude that precedes the entrance of Puck and the Fairies in Act II, bounced and danced, ending with a long, unbroken phrase gracefully played by principal flutist, Kathy Karr.

Spencer Sharp, winner of the 2014 Association of the Louisville Orchestra Concerto Competition, played the first movement of the Dvořák violin concerto with assuredness. Abrams’ account of the first movement of Schubert’s “Unfinished” was impassioned and brooding. Like Mendelssohn, we may never come to terms with Schubert’s short, prolific life.

Beethoven, known for his anguish, showed us a playful and cheeky side with the Turkish March from “The Ruins of Athens” and the “King Stephen Overture.” The latter is Beethoven as a caricature of himself: grandiose statements, perky tunes and rousing anthems.

Music Without Borders implies a boundary exists, namely in Whitney Hall or the Brown Theater, between an audience and the orchestra. The audience last night looked no different than the audience at Whitney Hall. The concept is right, but maybe next season will include concerts in Shawnee, Portland or Pleasure Ridge Park.

Music Without Borders continues tonight at 7:30 p.m., Ogle Center IUS and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Congregation Adath Jeshrun.

Daniel Gilliam is the program director for WFPL’s sister station WUOL Classical 90.5.