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Wendelken-Wilson memorial concert an inspiration

Of late, Maestro Charles Wendelken-Wilson dominated these pages as he has dominated the musical life of Dayton for nearly four decades. Last week, I was privileged to express my feelings about this great musician and good friend.
This week, I get to express my feelings and gratitude toward some other good friends. Charles’ loss, inevitable but yet a shock, was a call to action. While he was with us, Charles would never have permitted a commemorative concert. Now, the path was clear.

Maestro Neal Gittleman sprang to action..Working with Georgie Woessner of Dayton Public Radio, Ken Kohlenberg of the Miami Valley Symphony and Tom Bankston of Dayton Opera, within hours they had the plans for a special concert at the Schuster.

The music was to reflect Charles’ contributions to Dayton. Combining artists from the Philharmonic and the Miami Valley Symphony under the batons of Neal and Ken Kohlenberg was a stroke of inspiration. Tom Bankston invited several singers, Renée Franck Reed, Madelon Kinzig and Alice Hotopp from The Opera Funatics and the magnificent bass voice of Dayton Opera star David Michael.

The musicians and conductors had only one rehearsal, an hour before the concert. The musical program was far from simple, Bernstein’s Candide Overture, the difficult Andante Cantabile 2nd movement of Beethoven’s First Symphony, Bizet’s Carmen Suite and the elegiac Largo movement of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony.

The orchestra also accompanied David Michael in the magnificent aria, Come dal ciel precipita from Verdi’s Macbeth. When David finished the aria, the audience, stunned by its beauty hesitated and then broke into thunderous applause. David had left the stage. It took Georgie Woessner several minutes to escort him back to the enthusiastic adulation.

There were several speakers, each with a personal remembrance and goodbye to Charles. Philharmonic trumpeter Charles Pagnard had the most moving tribute, Taps, played as only a symphonic artist could render it.

How could all this music be made, with such inspiring quality and so little preparation? Added to the equation was the mix of orchestral players. There were the superb professional artists of the Philharmonic. The Miami Valley Symphony players are also true artists but not with the same professional experience.

They came together sitting among each other. Unfamiliar partners but moved by the same goal – to make beautiful music for Charles Wendelken-Wilson. Like the great athletes who surpass records, they were “in the zone.” Inspiration is not a measurable quantity. The results of inspiration can be measured and appreciated. Those in attendance at Charles’ concert knew that they were in the presence of that force.

The final music, The Stars and Stripes Forever, was played without a conductor. None was needed.

Gem City Ballet

Barbara Pontecorvo and her company, The Gem City Ballet, recreate an era in Dayton dance which could have been called “the golden days.” Dayton Ballet was in the firm hands of Miss Jo Schwarz, her sister Miss Hermene, Jon Rodriguez and Bess Saylor.

They took very young students and molded them into fabulous dancers. Many of their products have had illustrious careers in major companies. Many went on into other paths of life touched with their fire.

With Miss Jo – everything was for the dancers. If they were well trained, well rehearsed and fit into creative choreography, the audiences would be enthusiastic and devoted. The re-creation by Barbara’s company, call that resurrection, of that spirit is so exciting to “seasoned” dance fans here in Dayton.
The Spring Repertory concert was held in a new venue and format. The Mathile Theatre at the Schuster Center holds only 80 persons when set for ballet performances. To give the dancers greater experience, three sold-out performances in two days were held.

Again, with the growth of her dancers in mind, Barbara invited the three graduating seniors, Chloe Donaldson, Timothy Barker and Oakwood senior Hannah Wagner to each mount an original ballet. These ballets, matched with Kiyon Gaines Variable Speed and Stuart Sebastian’s comic romp, Ballet à La Carte made a fabulous evening of non-stop dance.

Each of the ballets had special zest. Variable Speed was leaping and turning to perfection. Chloe’s Visions was soft and flowing with short bursts of controlled intensity. In Visions, very young Evelyn Ritzi performed a complex series of turns in an arabesque position which was a show stopper.

Timothy’s Seven Deadly Sins was full of overt symbolism, zesty dance and character acting. Hannah’s Interrupted had some exciting partnering and innovative movement.

The late Stuart Sebastian grew up with Dayton Ballet and became a leading dancer, choreographer and director. Watching Stuart grow, we also watched his ballets evolve. In a period of true whimsy, he created Ballet à La Carte. Imagine mayhem in a French restaurant. Now that you’ve imagined that, imagine dancing to it!

That is Ballet à La Carte. Each dancer had a special character. There was plenty of dance and plenty of Marx Brothers comedy. Vivacious Hannah Wagner got drunk and got revenge. She took it out on a shameless gigolo danced by spirited Timothy Barker.

Thanks, Barbara, and your very talented troupe, for a joyous trip down memory lane. That garden path also leads to a brilliant future.




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May 19, 2009
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