Sinfonietta success sets stage for second season

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By N. Clark Judd

Mark Mandarano enters the concert space on Riverdale Temple’s upper level with a worn-looking folder in his hand.

He shows it to the audience of about 60 people. It’s the score to the piece he’s about to conduct, by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Karel Husa, who is also Mr. Mandarano’s mentor. The piece has never before been professionally performed in New York City, he says. Mr. Mandarano reads the note Mr. Husa left for him on the front page, thanks everyone for coming, and disappears to prepare for the performance of his Sinfonietta of Riverdale.

The sinfonietta is Mr. Mandanaro’s experiment — a professional classical music ensemble, exclusive to one neighborhood, juxtaposing music from different periods and styles in each concert. And the experiment has met enough success for a second season of concerts to be secheduled: on Oct. 18 and Dec. 6, and again on May 2, 2010.

On this particular day, Sunday, May 3, a collection of musicians who study and teach at Jiulliard and play with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the New York Philharmonic are about to perform for a Riverdale audience in a temple on Independence Avenue.

That sort of intimacy is what Mr. Mandarano wanted when he organized the Sinfonietta of Riverdale — a musical ensemble somewhere between a chamber orchestra and a full symphony — and arranged two concerts at the temple.

Intimacy has its snags, too; when the musicians asked for the lights to be turned up, so they could read their music. Mr. Mandarano reappeared, stage right, to fiddle with the appropriate switches. Minutes passed. He fixed the lights. He went behind the stage and emerged again, this time to applause.

He shook the concert master’s hand. There was a pause.

Then, music.

Nobody seemed to mind about the lights.

Energetically directing his ensemble of about 15 musicians, with the addition of pianist Benjamin Hochman for the Bach concerto, Mr. Mandarano bounced and gestured his way through the concert, the second of the sinfonietta’s existence.

Mr. Mandarano emphasizes a focus on the quality of the music in each concert. But he also seems to be looking for a small coup — something new and different and part of the experiment — in each event.

October’s concert will feature music written for the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, written by Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland. December’s concert focuses on conductors who are also composers — one of whom, Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish composer and musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will be in the audience to hear the Sinfonietta perform his work.

“Sure it’s new and it’s different,” Mr. Mandarano said Tuesday, “but that isn’t the reason we’re doing it. The reason we’re doing it is because we really believe in it. It’s exciting … it’s something that’s not happening anywhere else.”

For more information about the Sinfonietta, visit www.sinfoniettanyc.org.

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