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ASO to present ‘Italian Night’ at Mishler


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Members of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Chorale and Chorus sing at a basketball game.
Courtesy photo by Brian Henry, IUP

The Altoona Symphony Orchestra, along with two guest vocalists and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Chorale, will present an “Italian Night at the Symphony” at 7:30 p.m. April 13 at the Mishler Theatre.

Led by music director and conductor Nick Palmer, the concert will showcase the rich musical heritage of Italy, from the operatic masterpieces to the lush orchestral compositions by Italian composers like Puccini, Rossini, Verdi, Poncielli and Vivaldi.

The expressionistic beauty of opera will be demonstrated through the vocal talents of the chorale directed by Dr. Craig Dennison, contralto Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber, professor of music at Penn State Altoona, and lyric soprano Brandis Ajay, an Altoona native who lives in State College.

Selections include “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi composed by Giacomo Puccini, featuring Ajay and the orchestra; “Placido e il mar” from Mozart’s “Idomeneo” with Ajay, IUP choir and orchestra; and “Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio” (AKA The Flower Duet) from “Madama Butterfly,” by Giacomo Puccini with Ajay, Cutsforth-Huber and orchestra. The orchestra will be featured in Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” a symphonic poem that captures the essence of Italy’s historic and natural beauty.

“I’m very excited and also very nervous,” Ajay said. “This may be one of the biggest performances I’ve ever done. I’ve never sung with a full orchestra. I’m looking forward to it.

She said the performance brings her together with several of her former teachers who also play in the orchestra.

The evening is a “full circle moment,” for Cutsforth-Huber as she performs for the first time with Ajay, her student, and with the orchestra under Maestro Palmer.

Cutsforth-Huber first taught Ajay when she was an undergraduate student at Penn State Altoona and has continued as a private student for nearly a decade. As a music professor for nearly 30 years, she described their duet as “a rarity” for teacher and student to perform at this professional level.

“It’s a fantastic and proud moment for me as her teacher,” Cutsforth-Huber said, because Ajay has progressed and achieved the “skill set, ability and confidence.”

The “Flower Duet,” Cutsforth-Huber called “one of the most beautiful operatic duets for contralto and soprano. It’s beautiful and everyone knows it, and it’s very challenging for the singers. Because it covers such a broad vocal range … and it’s dynamic so you have to have a lot of technical control to execute the expression marking and dynamic constraints that the composer asks of the singer. That’s what makes it so expressive.”

It requires the singers to have a “really solid synergy together and to move with the melody at exactly the same time,” she continued, noting that the beat “isn’t always strong” by composer Puccini.

“It’s very flowing and lyrical and very easy for the singers to lose where they are and it makes it hard to stay together. You have to feel what the other singer is doing and ebb and flow together. It’s a beautiful effect but hard to do,”

Cutsforth-Huber said.

Their long history of working together helps it work well.

“We have the synergy but it’s still difficult. It’s going to be a lot of fun to do that one,” she said. “It sounds so magical but it’s not magic. It’s hard work.”

Staff Writer Patt Keith can be reached at 814-949-7030.

If you go:

WHAT: The Altoona Symphony Orchestra presents “Italian Night at the Symphony”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 13

WHERE: Mishler Theatre, 1208 12th Ave.

TICKETS: $35 for adults and $12 (plus box office fees) for students; purchased through the Mishler Box Office by calling 814-944-9434 or visiting https://mishlertheatre.vbotickets.com/events

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