For the past forty years violinist and conductor Dave Dally has been providing an important service to us on the Monterey Peninsula. Starting modestly from a Monday-evening string class at Monterey Peninsula College, he has created an ensemble that would be the pride of any community. It presents ambitious and artistic programs, draws in the best local area musicians and often features distinguished local artists as soloists. It may still officially be called the MPC String Ensemble, but when Dally wants to present a more ambitious work requiring a larger instrumentation, he finds winds, brass and percussion as needed. So let’s call it what it is. It has become a community orchestra, and it is a model of what a community orchestra should be.
Previously most of the MPC String Ensemble concerts were presented in the MPC Recital Hall. It is an awkward performing space that is crowded, uncomfortable and lacking a proper stage, effective lighting and backstage facilities. Moving to the MPC Theater carried a certain risk, since the this theater is designed for theatrical events that rely on varying amounts of electronic amplification, not as an acoustical space for live concerts. Well, the verdict is in. It works and works very well.
On this occasion, a warm December 11 Monday evening, Dave Dally came out on stage as soloist (and conductor) and gave us a richly detailed and satisfying performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Since the printed program contained no program notes, Dally enlisted the artistic services of pianist Melinda Coffey Armstead as narrator between the movements (she also performed the keyboard part). Melinda has a nice stage presence and a wicked wit, so her comments were both informative and entertaining. As she described the events depicted in each movement, Dally often would play snippets of a passage, some of them hilarious. Melinda added one especially nice touch — as she began to speak about the final movement, Winter, she wrapped a beautiful red scarf around her neck and let her teeth chatter.
Dave Dally obviously loves playing and his enthusiasm is contagious. We all enjoyed his brilliant and dramatic performance. No matter how many times you have heard Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” it always creates magic and moves us as a great musical work, a dazzling example of violin and orchestra virtuosity, and especially, with Melinda’s narration, a musical portrayal of life in the 17th century. Four cellists in the orchestra, Jacob Hoadley, Kim Kistler, Isadora Flores and Vernon Brown, had important solos in the Vivaldi, as did, of course, Melinda Coffey.
After intermission, the ensemble performed Serenade for Strings in C Major, Opus 48, by Tchaikovsky. This is another work that, although well known, still exerts its magic spell. Especially effective on this occasion was the lovely Waltz movement and the Finale.
We all enjoyed this performance and hope that all future concerts by the MPC String Ensemble will be in the Theater, not the Recital Hall. Kudos to all.