Rockford Symphony opens its Classical Series with old favorites

Rockford Symphony opens its Classical Series with old favorites

By Georgia Pampel

By Georgia Pampel

Music Critic

The Rockford Symphony Orchestra, led by Steven Larsen, earlier welcomed the new season on the 19th with the light-hearted Doc Severinsen Gala, but the serious opening, the opening of the full Classics Series, was Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Coronado, offering two ageless favorites by Mozart and Beethoven, along with one of Steve Larsen’s own favorites, a less familiar “symphonette” by Robert Schumann, titled “Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Opus 52.” Season subscribers were welcomed to their seats by a miniature gift box of chocolates, accompanied by a note of gratitude for their support of the series.

One reason that Larsen programmed the Schumann is specifically because it is not familiar (only one member of the orchestra had played it before), and he wanted to share one of his own loves. It was an interesting work, clearly overshadowed in standard texts by the more easily recognized lieder, piano solo works, concertos and four symphonies. The work we heard Saturday does not offer a catchy melody to carry home, but it does leave memories of lively dialogue, sometimes between the winds and the strings, other times between the violins and the cello section, some of the dialogues rising to serious disputes, finally resolving themselves in dance-like passages. When the brass and percussion heralded the closing of the Finale, we all waited in attendance to see the Steinway Concert Grand wheeled onto stage for Pianist Angela Cheng’s performance of Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C Major, known these days as “that one from Elvira Madigan.”

Statistics show that tabulating all classical concert events in this country, 20 percent of the works programmed come from only three composers: Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Why should this be? There is no simple answer. Genius, enhanced by the spark of creativity and the persistent years of preparation, make up a combination that does not occur often. So rarely in the history of music do we find composers whose music lasts, fits into varied situations, reaches a

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broad audience, and continues to offer satisfaction to the general concert public, while also holding the interest of the trained musical ear.

But back to the concert. Pianist Cheng, born in Hong Kong, but now a Canadian citizen, trained at Juilliard and Indiana University. Always attentive and responsive to the orchestra passages, letting her head and shoulders follow the notes, she gave us a memorable rendition, especially notable for a certain delicacy and fluidity in her fingers. I searched my mind for an image to describe the effect and came up with a memory of the beads that cascade to the floor when a necklace breaks. Those beads slither too fast to be counted or trailed—and just so did Cheng’s notes fly from the piano. She had power when it was needed, but most of all had a deep understanding of the structure of this concerto, keeping in balance with the orchestra at all times. At the close, she turned to give Larsen a big hug, for the two had clearly forged a musical partnership in the 24 hours since they met.

And after intermission came the ever-satisfying motifs that weave the tapestry of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. One test of a classic is that no matter how many times we hear it, it remains fresh, as different elements take the foreground in different performances. The strains that could become too complex in less skilled hands, are here kept in line by Beethoven’s mastery, as they recur and interact throughout the symphony. It is sometimes a mistake to think that a recording may be an adequate substitute for live music, for in live concert, the variations in tempo, accent and melodic expression lead us to hear new shadings with each performance. Many soloists tell how the ongoing search for the perfect expression keeps them playing certain works year after year, as they find new twists and colors to bring forth.

Today, nearly all classical organizations must look for both community and corporate support, to continue their work. And so Rockford is fortunate that Hamilton Sundstrand has come through with backing to shore up the Classics Series. In addition, the individual concerts each have additional support, Saint Anthony Medical Center, in the case of this concert. Throughout the season, other Rockford organizations contribute to each of these evenings.

Offering something back to the broader American community, the Orchestra on Oct. 16 will give a special concert with Violinist Rachel Barton contributing her talents, to raise money for those New Yorkers whose lives have been turned upside down by the attack Sept. 11. They are asking $10 per ticket, plus whatever you feel you can add to that sum. All funds will go to the disaster relief, and so are completely tax deductible. Call the Orchestra offices to reserve your tickets.

The regular Classics Series will continue Nov. 10, with the Mendelssohn Chorale and soloists performing the Verdi Requiem.

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