“Borrowing a line from that great baseball movie, the Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come,” the Apollo Ensemble of Boston, under the clear and emotionally involved baton of Elias Miller, put together a program of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms: and boy did they come!

A full and enthusiastic audience at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain roared and stamped their approval for the committed, energetic orchestral performance of three beloved warhorses and for Liyuan Xie, the superb soloist in the beloved Mendelssohn violin concerto.

The Beethoven Leonore No. 3, recaps the plot of Fidelio and is a ringing example of the heroic style of Beethoven and the humanity of Leonore in the face of the impending death of Florestan. The performance captured the drama and pathos of the music beautifully.

The soloist for the Mendelssohn Liyuan Xie promised us a beautiful trip through this gem from his opening phrase, and did not disappoint. For me what this young artist does that sets him apart from many young instrumentalists, not just violinists, is to explore a wider range of dynamics, especially in the piano and pianissimo range. His ability to not only play softly, but to do it expressively, is one of the marks of an artistic temperament. The virtuoso side was certainly there, but it was never noticed for itself, but existed to serve the music. A master’s degree candidate at the New England Conservatory, Xie is studying with the distinguished violinist Miriam Fried and has already paid his dues at major festivals and we can only remember with fondness this lovely performance and eagerly follow his future.  

I freely admit that the Brahms second symphony is a piece I can’t live without. It is a product of one of Brahms’ sunny lakeside summer retreats and comes from the same atmosphere as the violin concerto and the G major violin, piano sonata. Brahms, as was his mischievous wont, remarked to a friend that the symphony “is so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in mourning.” Just turn everything in that statement on its head and you will be on target. The performance was splendid with its forward momentum and persuasive phrase building and the climaxes were handled in such a measured way that they felt important when they arrived.

Much of this success must, of course, go to conductor, Elias Miller. Of all the qualities needed by a conductor I would say that the ability to transmit his or her joy of the music, make the players want to perform for him and to match his fervor is paramount. And this I believe was felt by all in the audience as was obvious in their visceral responses. These three stalwarts of the symphonic repertoire have a pretty predictable built in audience response, but last night there was some electricity in the air. Mr. Miller is, I believe, destined for a stellar career and Harvard should be extremely proud of this alum.  

To end let me say that this huge undertaking, contracting personnel, finding performance and rehearsal spaces, convincing really terrific players to perform as volunteers is a job of utmost commitment, love of music in all its forms and desire to perform and for that we all owe Michael Tabak a debt of gratitude. He is an ardent flautist who was a Juilliard Prep student before deciding to make a living. He has returned from the world of prosecuting bad men and women to a world of making music with great men and women.”

Frederik Wanger Reviewing “The Apollo Ensemble Plays Brahms’ Second” – January 22, 2023

Note:  Pianist Fredrik Wanger was educated at Oberlin College, Peabody Conservatory, the Vienna Academy (as a Fulbright scholar), and Boston University. He has performed at Town Hall and Carnegie Recital Hall in New York, Jordan Hall in Boston, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Palais de Beaux Arts in Brussels, and has toured Europe, Canada, and the United States. He performed with seven first-chair players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and was a member of the Boston Fine Arts Chamber Ensemble. He was a member of the music faculty of Boston University and often performed with his wife Jane in duo- and four-hand piano recitals. He has been a member of the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement for several years and has taught courses there about Brahms, Mahler, and others.

Reviewing “The Apollo Ensemble Plays Tchaikovsky’s Fifth” – July 25, 2022
Reviewing “The Apollo Ensemble Plays Eroica” – October 4, 2021