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More than 175 years old and still fresh

The Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra of Hungary delivers the works of the precocious Felix Mendelssohn.

By ROBERT HICKS
Published July 31, 2003

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[Publicity photo]
The Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra performs Saturday afternoon in Tampa and Saturday evening in Sarasota.

The Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra plays a repertoire from baroque to contemporary music, but the group's main focus are the works of 19th century German composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

"What's most important for me is the freshness of Mendelssohn's music," artistic director and principal violinist Peter Kovats says. "He grew up in a rich family, so he had a much easier life than Mozart or Beethoven. He is striking when he thinks of a theme or a motif. It happens without effort. It's important for us to find a fresh way of playing his music."

The Hungarian orchestra will perform Saturday at Ferguson Hall in the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and at Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall as part of the Symphony of the Americas Summerfest.

Mendelssohn's String Symphony No. 10 in B minor and his Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D minor highlight the program. Other works include Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso in A minor, Rossini's String Sonata No. 2, Mozart's Divertimento in F, Cecile Chaminade's Concertino for Flute in D Major and Ferenc Farkas' Aria e Rondo all'ungherese.

"Ferenc Farkas is a very important Hungarian composer," Kovats said. "He studied with Respighi and then he started to work in Hungary. I can say that perhaps every great Hungarian composer studied with Mr. Farkas," who died at age 95 in 2000.

Kovats founded his chamber orchestra in 1985, calling it Veszprem Strings after his hometown near Budapest. Veszprem also is the birthplace of Leopold Auer, who established violin schools in Russia and the United States.

"In my hometown, we had a symphony orchestra, but not a chamber orchestra," Kovats said. "When I finished my studies at the music academy in Budapest, I decided to get together with friends of mine and form a chamber orchestra in Veszprem. I think it was a good idea, because we enjoy playing and we've played many places with success."

Early on, the chamber orchestra played baroque to contemporary music ranging from Bach and Telemann to Bartok, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. The group has even played jazz, collaborating with French pianist and Play Bach Trio founder Jacques Loussier and American pianist Fred Hersch, with whom it has recorded. Its debut CD, Mendelssohn Concertos, came out on the Hungaroton label in 1993.

Fascinated with Mendelssohn's early string works and faced with an international touring schedule, Kovats decided to rename his group in 1993.

"We started to focus on his work and that's why we started to play his 10 symphonies, which were written . . . when he was 13, 14 years old," he said.

"We always try to play Mendelssohn's works, but it is important for us to play different styles, different composers. It's not our style to be a specialist."

The group recorded a CD, Mendelssohn and More, in June at Kossuth Hall in Veszprem under conductor James Brooks-Bruzzese during the Hungarian leg of the Symphony of the Americas Summerfest 2003.

PREVIEW: Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra, 3 p.m. Saturday, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $19-$35. 813 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; or www.tbpac.org The orchestra also performs Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota as part of the Symphony of the Americas Summerfest 2003. Free. (941) 953-3368.

[Last modified July 30, 2003, 09:59:03]


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