Chamber Orchestra's Haydn concert

A provocative gesture

Warner: Echoes of Mstislav
Warner: Echoes of Mstislav

When the Chamber Orchestra announced it was dedicating its podium as a memorial to Dr. Hubert J.P. Schoemaker, I assumed the orchestra would attach a plaque to a new, impressive-looking lectern. But the only "podium" on the stage was the standard low platform where the Chamber Orchestra conductor always stands.

Schoemaker led an exceptionally productive life before he died in 2006 at age 55, after a battle with brain cancer that lasted several years. After earning a bachelor's from Notre Dame in two and a half years and a Ph.D. from MIT in three, Schoemaker co-founded Centocor, a biomedical research company that developed two standard treatments for heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. He subsequently started a second company (Neuronyx) that developed treatments for brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and co-founded venture funds that supported still more biomedical R&D.

I "'d never heard of Dr. Schoemaker, and his biography in the Chamber Orchestra program goaded me to reflect, as I frequently have, how we too often tend to equate fame with importance. Many people become famous simply because they work in front of huge audiences.

If you become a successful entertainer or athlete, you'll be treated like a divinity just because millions of people happen to have heard of you. But if you create businesses and foster treatments that transform millions of lives, your audience will be limited to a small number of associates, and no one will ask you for your autograph when you walk the streets. But which type of person is more important?

Leadership by nurture

Dr. Schoemaker was a patron of the arts and especially the Chamber Orchestra, but his relationship with the Chamber Orchestra transcended financial support. As the Orchestra's music director Ignat Solzhenitsyn related in his brief, well-phrased remarks following the intermission, he and Dr. Schoemaker had become close friends who had engaged in long and fruitful conversations. Schoemaker seems to have been the kind of leader who impresses people with his ability to nurture his associates.

So Solzhenitsyn wasn't dedicating a physical object. The Chamber Orchestra was saying that the space where its conductor stands, wherever that may be, will be permanently dedicated to the memory of a remarkable person. His friend Dr. Schoemaker would now be with him, Solzhenitsyn concluded, whenever he occupied the Chamber Orchestra podium.

Somber opening

The symphony that followed Solzhenitsyn's eulogy, Haydn's 48th, opened with an appropriate somberness. It's one of the few symphonies that begin with a slow movement. But there was more to the movement than simple mournfulness. As the movement progresses, Haydn touches on broader emotions, such as serenity and elegiac memory.

The second movement allegro picks up the pace and contains passages that push forward like a march. The ballroom atmosphere of the third movement minuet and the final, deeply serious presto completed a piece that suited the complex personality Solzhenitsyn described in his remarks.

The guest soloist for the all-Haydn program, cellist Wendy Warner, plays with a big, beautiful tone that makes everyone think of her Curtis teacher, the late Mstislav Rostropovich. Warner was a perfect match for Haydn's D Major cello concerto, a particularly melodious creation with singing passages that lie right in the darkly glowing sweet spot of the cello's range.

Small but nimble

The opener, Haydn's 16th Symphony, spotlighted this small orchestra's inherent nimbleness. When historical performance advocates argue that Haydn and Mozart should be played by the smaller orchestras common in their era, we usually think of the lighter, less grandiose volume produced by a small orchestra. But for this concert, I sat so close to the stage that the 25 musicians sounded louder than the Philadelphia Orchestra sounds from a typical downstairs seat in Verizon Hall.

The important quality was the sprightly jauntiness of the allegros. A large orchestra can achieve that effect, too, but it must work harder. The antelope usually outmaneuvers the elephant.

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