The Fox Valley Symphony began its 40th season Saturday with an evening of music at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton as music director Brian Groner skillfully guided the orchestra through works by George Gershwin and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Gershwin's music filled the first half of the program. Opening the concert was his symphonic work American in Paris. This delightful composition was performed with crisp clarity and precision. From the well-played solo passages to the full orchestral sections, the musicians responded to Groner's imaginative interpretation of Gershwin's score. Michael Henckel's performance of the famous blues trumpet solo was particularly noteworthy.
The next work was Gershwin's famous and much-loved Rhapsody in Blue, which featured the evening's guest artist, pianist Lorin Hollander. Hollander rendered a powerful performance of the work quite reminiscent of his younger days as a solo pianist. His command of the keyboard both as a soloist and when playing with the orchestra demonstrated his knowledge of the score as well as his sensitivity to balance in this demanding composition.
His mastery of the work did not go unnoticed to the audience, as they burst into applause with a standing ovation upon the Rhapsody's conclusion.
The second half of the program was devoted to Shostakovich's towering Symphony No. 5 in D minor. Arguably his most famous composition, this symphony has proven to be a challenge to all orchestras that seek to perform it - a challenge met by Groner and the symphony.
One of the more intriguing scoring elements of this great mass of instruments is that the size of the orchestra is often reduced to a single player. These solos, and at times duets, provide great contrast to the loud and powerful sections by offering moments of serenity and subtle beauty.
One such duet appears toward the end of the first movement where the flute and horn perform with harp accompaniment. This famous passage is quite demanding and was beautifully played by flutist Elizabeth Marshall and hornist Bruce Atwell.
If one must call attention to a particular moment in the symphony, it would have to be the expansive third movement where the strings come to the fore for virtually the entire movement. The string section provided a lush and velvety sound.
Contrast this with the bold and powerful ending of the last movement and you can truly see sonic diversity that exists in this extraordinary symphony.
Upon its conclusion, the audience rewarded the musicians with a well-deserved standing ovation. Saturday night's performance was a grand prelude to what surely will be a great season.
James Chaudoir is a music professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.