Mark Mandarano, Artistic Director


Light and Shade

By Mark

January 7th, 2015

I always put a great deal of care into programming so that each concert is a satisfactory aesthetic experience. Even so, I am particularly proud of the upcoming program for the Sinfonietta on January 18th. It’s a program that offers an opportunity to contemplate the mysteries of mortality, meditate on the unknown and, ultimately, celebrate the beauty and joy of what gives life meaning: love and the bonds that unite us all. It features two of the greatest compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music is so intensely gratifying and moving that any attempt to capture its essence, no matter how eloquent, is destined to fail miserably (nevertheless, I go on, as you see). We will also perform one of the most fascinating pieces of music, the rarely heard Chamber Concerto (1970) by Ligeti, considered by many to be his masterwork.

We begin with Bach’s Cantata #82, Ich habe genug (I have enough). The three main texts for this piece describe someone who has arrived at a place where they accept, even revel in, the thought of their own death. The music possesses a deep seriousness mixed with pain, and a joy that is an essential part of that pain. The world that we live in is a place of suffering and what comes after, though unknown, will bring relief. Repeatedly, the soul says “I am ready to depart,” and the central movement, a lullaby, encourages weary eyes to close and welcome the coming slumber. It is here that the central thesis of the work is stated most clearly: “Here must I accumulate misery; but there, there will I see sweet peace.” To express these mingled feelings of hurt and visions of release, Bach’s music interweaves gloriously arching lines for the flute with sinuous but grounded parts for the strings. Throughout this, the solo soprano projects the thoughts of the protagonist with a calm ecstasy.

Having accepted that it is inevitable, we begin our journey into the unknown. Ligeti’s music evokes mists, clouds, twilight. Crafted with the utmost care, meticulously, even obsessively notated, it begins with a cluster of five pitches, the five half-steps of a major third, in barely audible, ever-shifting sonorities. No single voice, no prominent sound stands out and our ears, so accustomed to having composers guide us to what is central, strain to hear something to latch onto. This music is the aural equivalent of a fog – we instinctively try to peer through the sound with our ears, waiting for some single thing to become clear. Gradually, however, the sheer sound itself – the darkening and brightening of the sonority, the perception that it is evolving slowly – becomes the very thing that we listen to. We accept and even enjoy the mystery of it, its sudden surprises and unique delights. What began as the unknown – dissonant, unfamiliar and perhaps fear-inducing – becomes a new experience so totally engrossing that, to a certain extent, time disappears. There are many places in this score where the musicians are left free to carry on playing fiendishly complex figures on their own without a beat, in a kind of group cadenza – giving the audience a sense of the suspension of time. In four parts, each with its distinct expression, the Chamber Concerto for 13 musicians takes us on an unforgettable journey to discover the light within the darkness.

“Begone! Ye shadows of sadness!” — the very first words of Bach’s Cantata #202 – “Frost and Wind, go to sleep!” The “Wedding Cantata” reminds us that spring follows winter, day follows night, and the living world arises out of the mulch of the past. We are alive and love blooms ever anew, giving meaning, hope – and, not least, pleasure! — to the world. Playful, even impish, Bach’s music dances and sings in a celebration of the wholesome goodness of honest passion and faithful devotion.

This program – two pieces from the early 1700’s and one from 1970 – may seem like an odd pairing, but I feel very strongly that the composers are talking about the same things. One illuminates the other. Bach’s texts and his profound gravity articulate unspoken concepts in the Ligeti. And Ligeti’s daring originality and fearless pursuit of extremes extends Bach’s vision beyond the limits of convention – to a depiction of infinity.

A program of truly great music, played by fine artists and a chance to ponder the most consequential questions in life. As I say above, I am very proud of this program. I hope you can come along on this journey with us.

NY Times ♡ Benjy Hochman

By Mark

March 12th, 2014

“…As I listened to the pianist Benjamin Hochman’s sensitive, exciting renditions of four contemporary works that explore the form of theme and variation (including one premiere), I kept thinking that classical music doesn’t get better than this.”

So writes Anthony Tommasini in today’s New York Times. A complete rave.

Welcome aboard, Tony!

Benjy performed with the Sinfonietta on the second concert of its existence in May 2009 — an elegant account of Bach’s Concerto in D Minor. Last June, we heard a scintillating performance of Mozart’s Concerto in E-Flat, K. 271. I hope we’ll enjoy many more performances in years to come! What a wonderful artist, a true gentleman and a lovely human being.

Congratulations, Benjy!

The Sinfonietta in the Riverdale Press

By Mark

December 27th, 2013

Today’s Riverdale Press has an extended feature about the Sinfonietta. We are very grateful to James Palmer for the amount of detail included in this article. Not to mention the humbling praise: “Led by a world-class artistic director and conductor, along with internationally recognized dynamic musicians, the Sinfonietta could have reasonably substituted Carnegie Hall with the Vienna Konzerthaus, the Berliner Philharmonie, or the Mariinsky Theater, such is the virtuosity of the group.”

Read more here and support your local paper!

(Photos below of June Han, harpist; Mark Mandarano, conductor; Salley Koo & Grace Park, violins; Susie Park, violin & June Han, harp)

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Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

By Mark

December 1st, 2013

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi. His music, which is so well known and so beloved by opera-goers, is often somewhat overlooked by instrumentalists. Even his overtures, once a staple of the concert repertory, seem to be rarely performed by symphony orchestras these days. What a shame, because it is such great music: full-blooded, sincere, honest, skillful, inventive and, in its way, provocative.

In January (just over the temporal border into 2014), the Sinfonietta will have a chance to celebrate Verdi’s legacy with an orchestral performance of his sole String Quartet in E minor. This concert will take place at Wave Hill and its purpose is to honor Toscanini, who once lived there — which is an honor in its own right, being a part of such a performance. (more info here.)

However, in preparation, looking at the notes on the page and hearing the music in my mind, my thoughts are not so much with the conductor who promoted the music as they are with the genius who conceived of it. The quartet, of course, is chamber music for instrumental forces; nevertheless, it exhibits Verdi’s flair for dramatic expression and singing melody — the opera composer’s fundamental fingerprints. On the other hand, looking deeper, there is much in this music that can be placed alongside Brahms when one  examines the motivic saturation, the importance of the intervallic structural elements, the extensions of harmonic periods — and throughout, the weird phrase-lengths that always sound perfectly normal to the ear, no matter whether they consist of 4 bars or 5, or 7, or 9 and a half. A mystery. Created by mastery. A mastery that emerges from a profound mystery.

In short, music both to please the casual concert-goer and to intrigue the serious performer or scholar.

Happy Birthday, Maestro Verdi! Thank you.


By Mark

September 26th, 2013

Yesterday, I was invited to be on air with Alison Young at the Minnesota Public Radio station here in downtown Saint Paul. She is a consummate professional. So personable and well-informed. She put me at ease right from the moment I stepped in as some Rossini was playing over the air and we chatted and worked out a few technical issues. It was a marvel to see how she could keep track of the music on the air while she conversed with me, entered information on two computer keyboards and cued up the upcoming CDs she would be playing all at the same time! Like a mad scientist in the lab, or a master chef in the kitchen.

I had a wonderful time. She made the decision to play a track by the Sinfonietta of Riverdale right at the top of the interview, for which I am grateful. And, now, I better get ready for a rehearsal for this concert on Saturday!

If you’d like to listen to the interview, it’s online now here.

Kyu, moving back, moving up…

By Mark

June 13th, 2013

Kyu-Young Kim played with the Sinfonietta for several concerts. In fact, when I was thinking about starting this thing six or so years ago, he was one of the very first people I spoke with about playing. Moving out to Saint Paul, I was looking forward to hearing him play with the SPCO. Until the lockout. And then, he won the job in NY and we heard he’d be moving back! And now…looks like he’s coming back! Not just to play, but to help right the ship! Go, Kyu!!!

Read the Star-Tribune article here.

This gives me hope

By Mark

June 13th, 2013

A beautiful post from a young person who cares about music.

What pleasure…

By Mark

June 3rd, 2013

…making music today with Benjy and Mina. Stately, tragic, humorous Mozart. Regal, heroic, heavenly Haydn. Poetic Webern. Charming Fuchs. A good way to end the season.

And a good day to announce plans for next season! We will have three concerts next season, but only two of them will be at the Riverdale Temple. The other will be at Wave Hill which is re-opening the newly-renovated Armor Hall in January — where the Sinfonietta will be the featured artists for the grand return of music to Wave Hill House. But, I am getting ahead if things. The programs will be:

October 27, 2013 — MUSIC FOR STRINGS AND HARP. The Sinfonietta presents the delightful Danses Sacrée et Profane by Debussy and the famous Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony featuring harpist June Han. This soothing music is complemented by the intensity of the Chamber Symphony by Shostakovich (originally his 8th String Quartet) and a NY premiere by American composer Steven Stucky, Colburn Variations.

June 1, 2014 — SERENADES. The First Serenade by Johannes Brahms is known today as an orchestral work, but it was originally an intimate work for nine instruments. This concert presents a reconstruction of that original concept. Alongside this great classic are two nonets by American composers: the Divertimento by Walter Piston and an encore performance of Serenade by Byron Adams, commissioned by the Sinfonietta  and given its world premiere in 2012.

Plus a special event at Wave Hill:

January 12, 2014 — TOSCANINI CONCERT. The Sinfonietta celebrates the legacy of the great maestro Arturo Toscanini, who was once a resident of Wave Hill. Join us for a performance of Verdi, Beethoven and much more, as music returns to the newly renovated Armor Hall at Wave Hill. Tickets for this event will be available soon from Wave Hill.

More information on buying tickets and discount subscription packages will be posted very soon. I look forward to seeing you at these performances next season . Thanks for a wonderful five years!

Show Time

By Mark

June 2nd, 2013

Most of the rehearsing has been done and we are just about ready to hit the stage. I was happy to see this concert mentioned in the Riverdale Press.  Anyone can enjoy this kind of performance, with two soloists and one unknown but gorgeous major work. I hope you can come. Tell your friends! Tomorrow, Sunday, June 2nd at 2:30 PM.

Anton von Webern, Langsamer Satz

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto in E-Flat Major K. 271, Benjamin Hochman, piano.

Franz Joseph Haydn, Cello Concerto in D Major, Wilhelmina Smith, cello

Robert Fuchs, Serenade No. 4 for 2 Horns and Strings in G Minor

Can’t beat it.


Living with Viennese Classics

By Mark

May 13th, 2013

Delving into the music for the upcoming concert, I have my spirits lifted by the graceful, sweet, but deep and penetrating tunes and harmonies of great music from Vienna. To have Mozart’s E-flat Concerto performed by Benjy Hochman… it’s impossible to put into words the sense of anticipation I feel. That slow movement in C Minor is one of the world’s great creations. Fairly often, I hear Mina practicing Haydn as I move through the house and I know that soon, we will sit down together and work out the details, each finding new insights from the other’s point of view. In a week or so, we’ll have a run-through with piano as a part of the process that constantly builds until we reach the performance.

One of the real treats for me is this Serenade by Robert Fuchs. It’s always a pleasure to reveal a secret like this one. I feel reasonably confident that few, if any, will have heard of his name, let alone his music. In my private world of silent sound, as I accumulate the knowledge of the music in my mind, I feel assured that everyone at the performance will experience the sensational delight that comes from hearing a joyful, enriching piece of music for the very first time live! If you could imagine that the music of Brahms were to levitate and drift towards Mahler, with a dash of Johann Strauss, Jr., you’d be well on your way to imagining this Serenade by Fuchs!

Lastly, I have decided to add one more smaller work to the program, the early Langsamer Satz by Anton von Webern. It’s been a long time since I have performed this work and I am grateful to be doing it again.

Sitting in the Twin Cities, I am constantly breathing in this Austrian air — and smiling!

Recent Performances

OCTOBER 30, 2016

Sinfonietta at Wave Hill
P. TCHAIKOVSKY, Serenade in C
OLIVER CAPLAN, Lunastella Fuga
KAREL HUSA, Divertimento

MAY 20, 2017

Immigrant Initiative Concert
works by Mozart, Verdi, Bartok and Dvorak

JANUARY 20, 2018

Songs of Innocence
AARON KERNIS, Simple Songs
GUSTAV MAHLER, Symphony No. 4 (arr. Stein)

APRIL 2018

Free Family Concert
works by Beethoven, Mozart, Anderson and more

Coming up

October 19th concert takes place at 7:00pm at:

Christ Church Riverdale

5030 Henry Hudson Parkway
(at 252nd Street)
Bronx, New York 10471

Tickets available soon.

Buy Tickets

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