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Issue: April 1989

Louisville Mandolin Orchestra

With Keith Harris

The pink-and-gray-and-white Argyle socks that Phil Wakeman had on were the loudest things that could be seen on stage at the Strickler Hall auditorium, contrasting sharply with the black trousers, white shirts and gray vests worn by the players.

The socks were no match for the music, however, which ranged from the quietly delicate to river-swell rolls, with just the one side venture into Australian bush sounds, as the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra staged its second concert in less than a year, fronted by the world's finest classical mandolinist, Keith Harris.

Harris, an Australian currently living in Germany, opened the program with several solo classical pieces, and one "modern" piece written especially for him by the oboist for the Sydney Opera. Playing as though he were using a butterfly wing as a plectrum, Harris demonstrated that the mandolin has a dynamic range approaching that of the violin, in contrast to the hard, sharp attack used by most bluegrass players in the area. His instrument, dating from 1915, resembled the familiar "potato bug" style but had none of the dullness of tone and thin resonance with which the "bug" is plagued.

A short intermission allowed the Mandolin Orchestra to take the stage. It also allowed some audience members time to forget that they were in an unamplified situation, as the orchestra's portion of the show was somewhat marred by the pistol-shot-like coughs which seem to be unavoidable in live performances these days. One couple managed to add the percussive effects of Frito-eating to the beginning of the first piece, but quieted when the bag failed to yield more Fritos.

The Mandolin Orchestra took the stage after the break and slid through several works written for mandolin. Under the baton of conductor Jim Bates, the orchestra demonstrated why they have so excited the classical mandolin circles, performing far more capably than what might be expected of a so-recently-formed group. Only a difficult passage in the last section of Vivaldi's Concerto in G Major F.V. No. 2 for 2 Mandolins and Orchestra revealed the audacity of such a young group, as several tempo and rhythm changes almost foiled the guitarists. Soloist Mike Schroeder and Phillip Wakeman, Jr. sustained the movement, alternating the leading melodic lines so consistently that the rhythm section could not help but get back on track.

The orchestra premiered a piece written by John Goodin, entitled "Up River Road," which rolled and swelled with a mellow liquidness evoking a warm riverside afternoon. The piece was of such quality that Harris asked to be allowed to take it back to Germany with him for use by several mandolin orchestras with which he works. Goodin was all too happy to acquiesce.

The evening closed with a Concerto for Violin arranged for Mandolin and Orchestra, with Harris soloing. His almost-casual playing of the lead parts suggested a strong familiarity with the piece, which he finished up with a bluegrass-style flourish, all the while smiling at conductor Bates.

The concert was staged by the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra and Louisville Homefront Performances. The show was taped for later radio broadcast by Homefront.

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