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items tagged with Mark Russell Smith

Steps Forward and Back: The Quad City Symphony’s Season Opener
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2013-10-15 18:17:29

The first Masterworks concert of the Quad City Symphony’s 99th season was a checkerboard of strengths and weaknesses. Huge, transcendent moments filled the Adler Theatre in the October 5 concert, but when things got quiet, discrepancies in tone color, balance, and rhythm appeared.

Under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith, the orchestra explored four diverse approaches to composition in reverse chronological order. Commissioned by the Quad City Symphony, the world premiere of American composer Michael Torke’s Oracle opened the program, followed by fellow countryman Aaron Jay Kernis’ Musica Celestis, featuring only the strings. The mid-20th Century’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, by British composer Benjamin Britten – with humorous narration by local media personality Don Wooten – completed the first half. After intermission, pianist Jonathan Biss joined the orchestra for Johannes Brahms’ Concerto for Piano No. 1.

The concert was an elegantly designed program that included a variety of contemporary works balanced by a classic masterpiece, but – except for Torke – it was not a good selection of music for this orchestra. In the tutti sections, when all the instruments were played, the mixture of timbre was profuse. Yet as the scoring broke down into smaller instrumental combinations, the differences in individual colors became more problematic. The result was tonal incompatibility both among the same instruments and between instrumental families.


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Calculated Risks Mean a Bold Departure for Quad City Symphony Season
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2013-08-21 11:20:03

With its adventurous selection of 20th and 21st Century American music along with a broader sampling from the standard repertoire, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming season represents a sharp contrast from its most recent one. Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith said in a phone interview that the challenge was “finding the right balance between the familiar and unfamiliar.”

He has succeeded in both selection and placement. The award-winning contemporary American music has been sprinkled among stalwart European masters, resulting in imaginatively diverse, bold programming spanning 250 years in the six Masterworks concerts.

This year, the orchestra will present works by American composers in four of the six programs and feature two world premieres of music commissioned by the Quad City Symphony organization. “This is what I like in a season,” Smith explained. “Giving composers a forum for their work” and providing a “variety, and that’s what the audience likes.”


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Fighting Fate Through Music: The Quad City Symphony, April 13 at the Adler Theatre
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2013-04-22 18:25:26

Pyotr Tchaikovsky said his Fourth Symphony was about fate, and even used a “fate motif” – a recurring musical representation of a central programmatic idea – as an autobiographical statement. The topic was deeply personal, as he considered homosexuality his destiny.

In correspondence with his patroness, Tchaikovsky wrote in code about his struggle with his “condition,” calling it his “fate, the fatal power which prevents one from attaining the goal of happiness.”

This intensity of internal conflict represented in the music elevated his fourth symphony from his first three and created a model for his next two. Tchaikovsky’s torment and his longing to find happiness were resonantly brought to life in a searing, tender, and ultimately triumphant performance by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra and Musical Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith on April 13 at the Adler Theatre.


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Turning an Appetizer Into a Meal: The Quad City Symphony, December 1 at the Adler Theatre
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2012-12-12 15:19:09

It should have been only a sampling – a taste of love, lust, delusions of grandeur, and jocular deception – but the Quad City Symphony on December 1 delivered a fast-paced, funny, and fully satisfying performance of Act III of Guiseppe Verdi’s opera Falstaff.

Last season, the Quad City Symphony’s Der Rosenkavalier excerpt was plagued by balance problems between the singers and orchestra and by dramatic incoherence – with neither a translation of the German libretto nor an explanation of the plot.

This year, Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith got it right logistically, educationally, and musically. Smith moved the instrumentalists upstage, opening up a large area in front of the orchestra that put the principal singers closer to the audience. The cast members had more room to move and act, sharpening the differences between their characters.

Even though the 30-plus members of Jon Hurty’s Quad City Choral Arts sat behind the orchestra, far from the dramatic action, the location made their sound appropriately ethereal when they took on the roles of sprites, nymphs, spirits, and ghostly apparitions.

The changes of staging also improved the balance between the singers and the orchestra. From its upstage position, the orchestra was easily heard yet never overwhelmed the singers.


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A Stylistic Bear Hug for Beethoven and Mozart: The Quad City Symphony Orchestra, November 3 at the Adler Theatre
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2012-11-15 11:30:48

When the Quad City Symphony unveiled its versions of Mozart and Beethoven at the Adler Theatre on November 3, it stripped away the formalism of the Classical period and replaced it with the sensuality of mid-19th Century Romanticism. That approach by Conductor and Music Director Mark Russell Smith enhanced the literary thread that connected the five movements of Beethoven’s “Pastorale,” and the orchestra’s consistently warm and expressive performance made both composers’ music more satisfying.

Even though Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute and Concerto for Clarinet (both composed in 1791) are paramount examples of Classical form, and Beethoven’s 1808 Symphony No. 6 is a harbinger of the early Romantic movement, Smith had the orchestra perform with nuance beyond the scores – applying practices largely developed after these pieces were written.


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