By Lawrence Budmen

The opening concert of the FIU Music Festival on November 2 at the Wertheim Concert Hall opened and closed with two of the three B’s (Brahms and Beethoven) but the program’s heart and soul was an incredibly moving Concerto for Cello and Strings (Kaddish) by Frederick Kaufman. 

Conductor Carlos Riazuelo led the FIU Symphony Orchestra in a lively, characterful performance of Brahms’s Acadamic Festival Overture – always a strong opener.

Beethoven’s mighty Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Op.125 (Choral) was an ambitious undertaking for a student ensemble (which included guest players from Coral Reef High School). The performance was uneven. While the strings had surprising strength and power, the wind and brass playing was hit or miss. The principal oboe was particularly weak. In the final Ode to Joy, four vocal soloists (soprano Michelle Auslander, mezzo-soprano Conchita de Antunano, tenor Robert B. Dundas, and bass Edward Pierson) struggled with Beethoven’s unforgiving vocal writing.

Riazuelo (a pupil of renowned pedagogues Franco Ferrara and George Hurst) chose moderate tempos. There were moments when the performance came together. The heavenly Adagio molto e cantabile had surging lyrical line.

In the finale, the Miami Master Chorale under John Augenblick was a tower of strength, singing with vociferous force and subtle musicality. Beethoven’s glorious choral writing was well served.

Kaddish is one of Kaufman’s finest creations. Alternately austere and astringent, this powerful score cries out in anguished agitation. Written after the death of the composer’s mother and father (in a single year) the score is a moving prayer, by turns sorrowful and deeply personal. 

Kaufman’s cello writing concentrates on the instrument’s difficult upper register. Nothing short of a master of the instrument will do for this work. The remarkable Yehuda Hanani delivered a performance of superb technical agility and hushed reverence. His deeply ruminative cello perorations were the essence of passionate, dedicated music making. Hanani (who performed the work in 1986 at New York’s Lincoln Center and is familiar to South Florida audiences for his Close Encounters with Music series) was the perfect artistic conduit for Kaufman’s unique creative voice. 

With a vibrant string ensemble led with fervor by Riazuelo, the combination of Kaufman’s deeply felt prayer and Hanani’s magisterial performance was a memorable tribute to the emotional power of music in the 21st century.

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