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A smooth finish: ‘Nino’s Nonet’ at Nevada Chamber Music Festival


By Owen Bryant

As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” and so too it goes for the Reno Chamber Orchestra. The end of May saw the ensemble wrap up its 2021/22 season with a few performances in the Nevada Chamber Music Festival. The final performance took place at the majestic Trinity Episcopal Cathedral downtown on Island Ave, and they couldn’t have finished on a better note.

The program of the evening was titled “Nino’s Nonet,” after the keystone piece, “Nonet” by Nino Rota (1911-1979). A nonet is simply a group of nine musicians and Rota’s work was exquisite on its own, but the first half of the evening saw a few smaller groups play together in similarly fine fashion.

The program opened with “The Jet Whistle,” by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). A duet between flautist Garrett Hudson and cellist Dmitri Atapine, the piece moves along in an abstract, whimsical manner, evoking the proto-psychedelic stirrings of the mid-20th century. It alternated between light and jumpy, and slow and murky, before finishing off with a punctuated discordance.

“The Jet Whistle” with flautist Garrett Hudson and cellist Dmitri Atapine at Reno Chamber Music Festival May 29, 2022 in Reno, Nev. Image: Stuart Murtland

Next up saw Atapine joined by three other cellists, NCMF Artistic Director Clive Greensmith, and brothers John and Peter Lenz. The program noted their first piece, Moritz Moszkowski’s “Guitarre” was meant to be “a lively evocation of Spain and its guitar music,” and that certainly came through. The cellists played with a soothing, madrigal-like quality before moving into their next piece, Ottorino Respighi’s “Italiana,” the third suite of a larger composition known as “Ancient Airs and Dances.” This one had the cellists moving with more urgency and staccato, but also with a hint of playfulness.

Leading the audience into intermission was the big man himself, Ludwig Von Beethoven, almost too expected, but never disappointing. 

Greensmith and pianist Steven Vanhauwaert carried this one out effortlessly, moving from an Allegro to the Scherzo and then an Adagio. Beethoven’s signature grandiose sound shined through in all three sections. Alternating between thoughtful but tense romance, sneaky curiosity, and of course, finishing with “a note of noble jubilation.” Piano and cello take turns leading the way through the suite, both players equally impressive.

Reno Chamber Music Festival May 29, 2022. Image: Stuart Murtland
Reno Chamber Music Festival May 29, 2022. Image: Stuart Murtland

After intermission the audience heard Rota’s “Nonet,” the highlight of the evening. 

Kelly Kuo was guest conductor to the nine musicians: Garrett Hudson on flute, Emily Tsai on oboe, Elias Rodriguez on clarinet, Kara LaMoure on bassoon, Anni Hochhalter on French horn, Martin Beaver on violin, Dustin Budish on viola, Dmitri Atapine on cello and Scott Faulkner on bass.

In five movements, the nonet was an adventure. Beginning with a carefree Allegro led by flute, oboe and violin, it soon turned more cautious and melodramatic during the Andante. The Allegro Con Spirito was cascading and vibrant, interrupted by a more plodding section led by the bassoon and horn. 

This was followed by the diverse Canzone Con Variazioni, a cartoon-like mishmash of sounds, at times strutting and flamboyant, and others frantic and anxious. Finishing the night off was the Vivacissimo, a fluttering but assertive finale.

For a group so polished it is hard to come up with any criticisms, especially considering the venue just added to the beauty and perfectionism apparent in all of the performers. I found the program particularly enjoyable, even if the Beethoven seemed a little out of place with the rest of the more contemporary composers.

The Reno Chamber Orchestra never ceases to please its audiences, and I’m already wondering what jewels they’ll be putting out for us next season.

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