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Fox Valley Symphony opens season in style

Oct. 2, 2010

APPLETON — It isn’t often Appleton is treated to a world-renowned cellist.

Saturday's first program of the Fox Valley Symphony's season was just one of those instances, when you were very glad you took the opportunity to appreciate this Valley treasure and sorry for those who missed out.

Guest cellist Wendy Warner of Chicago, an exquisite musician with expressive style reserved usually for metropolitan venues, graced the stage at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. She masterfully executed her featured role in "Antonin Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor, Opus 104."

Upon her entrance it took several moments for her to situate her cello to just the right height. No apologies are understandable as from the moment her Francois Xavier Tourte (circa 1815) bow stroked the strings, it seemed as though artist and instrument were one.

Unafraid and animated, Warner gave life to the music even Johannes Brahms found astounding.

The first movement of the concerto is large, taking the listener along a fearsome journey with brass leading the way. While other artists have sometimes shrunk in the face of such accompaniment, she held her own. Due in large part one would assume, to the reverence this symphony under the direction of Brian Groner has for Warner and the true measure of Dvorak's work, symphonic blended with soloist but never overpowered her.

"Adagio, ma non troppo," the second movement, gave showcase to the cellist’s softer side, where one could easily get lost in the music. Warner, given the full breadth of a melodic score, worked very much in tandem with the orchestra. And the orchestra members, ever mindful of the great talent among them took care to give her all measure of their own expertise.

And the third movement, "Finale: Allegro moderato," was more than inspired. Groner seemed to have the performance in the palm of his hand. Musicians, even apparently awed by their guest artist, were in sync and seamless in their understanding of the music.

Especially thrilling was the opportunity concertmaster and first violinist Yuliya Smead had to pair with Warner in the third movement. Both bowed with amazing prowess and speed, leaving a breathless audience anxious to get on their feet to reward the musicians.

The second half of the program was devoted to Nikolay Andreyevich Rimskey-Korsakov's "Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite, Opus 35." Groner, in a blessedly brief introduction, gave the audience a welcome directive: Ignore the program book and its description of the work, but instead make up your own story. Music, he realizes, is really at the behest of the listener and should be thus enjoyed to one’s own imagination.

The four movements, scripted actually to The Arabian Nights, could be one's own love story or tale of adventure. It was at times powerful, at other times a delicate conversation between sections. When it was extravagant, it was over the top using full percussion including gong, cymbals and kettledrums to state the obvious emotion. Once again, Groner seemed to provide the musicians what seemed explicit license to give themselves over to the music.

And once again Smead delivered a brilliantly executed virtuoso performance.

If this is the beginning, we can only look forward to a very fulfilling performance season from the Fox Valley Symphony.

- Sara Snyder, Post Crescent

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