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Symphony, Perlman thrill Appleton audience

Sept. 28, 2016

Written for the Post Crescent by Amy Shoremount-Obra

APPLETON - The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra began its 50th anniversary season Wednesday with an exciting, beautiful and well-balanced program of symphonic favorites. Adding to the excitement at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center was the presence of superstar virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman, who delighted the audience, drawing a standing ovation that lasted for several minutes.

The program started with Aaron Copland’s “Ceremonial Fanfare” for brass, written as part of the centennial celebration of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for an exhibition titled “Masterpieces of Seven Centuries.” The piece begins with a short trumpet solo, played on Wednesday by Michael Henckel, which was clear and rhythmic as it rang in the hall, seemingly calling the audience to attention. The overall brass ensemble created a harmonious blend, which provided a majestic start to the evening.

Once the entire orchestra took the stage, Maestro Brian Groner gestured to the audience to stand as the orchestra began to play the National Anthem. As the audience sang along it became apparent that this orchestra and its community share a special bond: This is truly an orchestra of passionate, committed musicians and the audience so greatly appreciates them.

Next on the evening’s program was Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72a,” which the maestro was quick to note had also been performed at the orchestra’s inaugural performance 50 years ago. In the 10 years after the premier of Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio” (originally titled “Leonore”), the opera saw several revisions, a name change and four overtures (with a sketch of a fifth). This particular overture, although titled “No. 2,” was later discovered to have been Beethoven’s first overture for the opera. All of the original Leonore overtures were eventually replaced due to length, among other reasons, and the final overture of the opera was written nearly 10 years after the premier.

The opera is about a woman named Leonore who, disguised as a man named Fidelio, is eventually able to liberate her husband, who is being held as a political prisoner. It is an opera filled with themes of heroism, true love and sacrifice, faithfulness and the triumph of all of these things over tyranny. Overall, the orchestra performed marvelously under Groner’s strong leadership. After the initial exposition, the orchestra passionately played the sad melody of Florestan, which is heard in the opera when he first appears, hopeless, in the dark prison cell. Later, after yet another fantastic trumpet solo announcing the defeat of tyranny, the strings in particular showed superb skill and virtuosity as their florid lines illustrated the exhilaration of the triumph of good over evil.

Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien, Op. 45” is a very exciting piece inspired by a trip Tchaikovsky took to Rome. It begins with a thrilling trumpet fanfare, which was a bugle call that he heard each day from his hotel that was located next to military barracks. This fanfare was yet another moment to feature the fine brass section of the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra. The piece also contains several folk melodies that Tchaikovsky heard on the streets of Rome. The orchestra really captured the spirit of Italy in these moments, particularly within the woodwinds. Combined with a spirited tambourine in the fine percussion section, the orchestra left the audience feeling great satisfaction as intermission began.

Lastly, the moment all were waiting for was the arrival of Perlman to the stage for Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.” Known as one of the most perfect violin concertos ever to have been written, it was only fitting that the great Itzhak Perlman was the soloist for the evening. Perlman’s exquisite virtuosic opening passages sent a surge of excitement into the air. He played with such sincerity and heart as his bow glided over and over again to seemingly effortless, soaring high notes.

In the second movement, I was brought nearly to tears by the gorgeous aria that Perlman so elegantly played. It was in this Andante movement that my thoughts drifted to the heavens: This must be the closest thing our human ears can hear on earth to what the purest music from heaven sounds like. Mr. Perlman’s gift is most certainly divine.

In the final movement, the audience was left on the edge of their seats by the energetic runs, which were meticulously executed by Perlman. Throughout the entire piece, the orchestra was very sensitive to Perlman’s playing — never once overpowering him.

Bravi tutti to the entire orchestra, Maestro Groner and Perlman and all soloists for a superb evening and what I am sure is only the start to a fantastic 50th anniversary season ahead.

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