By Dr. Rob Tomaro
The Rockford Symphony kicked off its 81st season last Saturday at the Coronado Theater with an evening of power, dynamism and polish that bodes well for the year ahead. Maestro Steven Larsen, who is celebrating his 25th year as Music Director, conducted with the élan and command that have been his hallmark through the years and the orchestra, rising to the mark, played the beautiful but challenging program with authority and finesse.
The night began with our National Anthem, which is a time -honored tradition at the season’s first concert, especially here in the Midwest. There followed a sumptuous reading of Sir William Walton’s Overture to Shakespeare’s Richard III, a rousing curtain raiser, which was assayed with bravado. The brass, especially, shone in the English composer’s magisterial fanfares.
Next, we were treated to a return appearance by piano virtuoso David Syme. As the intricate arpeggios of the opening theme of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto rolled off his fingers and echoed through the hall, it was clear we were in the hands of a master. His thoughtful approach to this seminal repertoire piece spoke of years of refinement and a deep understanding of the Doyen of Russian composition. His clear, ringing tone and balanced voicing in all registers wove through Maestro Larsen’s deft and intuitive accompaniment. Also to be admired is his facility and skill in expressing the full palette of the emotional range inherent in the Tchaikovsky, which takes us from an intimate depth of pathos to a fiery height of spiritual grandeur. The difficulties posed by the music’s chromatic density were surmounted with seeming ease by soloist and ensemble alike in an elegantly blended and inspired realization of this beloved Romantic classic.
When asked what makes this particular concerto unique for him, he replied, “The piece fits my personality because it’s extremely extroverted. It’s rhapsodic but extremely demanding in so many ways.”
When asked to comment on his time here in Rockford with the orchestra, he offered, “It is a singular honor to work with Steve Larsen. The symphony plays wonderfully under his direction. There are individuals in that organization who subordinate their abilities as soloists in order to create a cohesive whole as an orchestra and they do it gloriously.”
The second half began with a touching tribute to two members of the orchestra who have recently passed away, trombonist Bill Johnson and percussionist Tom Rogiewicz. For this solemn occasion, Maestro chose a traditional elegy, Bach’s Air on the G String, and rendered it with heartfelt sincerity, evoking an ethereal, sanctified atmosphere that left a lasting glow.
The capstone of the evening was Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. This final symphonic triumph of the German master, and his ultimate homage to the legacy of Beethoven, is a paradigm of texture and vibrancy. In order for its complex beauty to shine through, the conductor and orchestra must keep its ornate formal structure moving forward with aplomb, while threading their way through the thematic variations upon which the piece is built.
The performance was captivating and uplifting and characterized by a clarity of execution as well as Maestro Larsen’s masterful grasp of the contrapuntal rhythms that lie at the heart of this timeless work. The crispness of ensemble achieved by the orchestra in all sections, especially the strings, which were glowing, is to be commended, heartily.
The series continues on October 24 at the Coronado with Cirque de la Symphonie, which will feature professional acrobats on a trapeze above the heads of the orchestra! Has anything like this been done before? With this excellent first concert as an opening gambit, and a high-flying sequel waiting in the wings, we have an extraordinary season to look forward to with our Rockford Symphony Orchestra. Bravo a tutti!!