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FVSO Offers a Moving Opening Night

Oct. 6, 2018

Written by Christopher Profit

In the first concert of what will undoubtedly prove to be an exciting and dramatic season, the Fox Valley Symphony opened its 2018-19 campaign in a moving way with the first of four conductors vying to be its next leader. With Brian Groner’s 26 year tenure now ended, Dr. Howard Hsu took to the baton as the first to audition for the permanent role. The theme of the evening seemed to be about moving the FVSO in a new direction, with new conductors in the driver’s seat. Off we go.

It was an exciting night, opening with a novel yet unfamiliar work, Motor City Redux by Jonathan Bailey Holland. If this work were an automobile, it would be a Ford Fusion Hybrid – a mix of styles including classical, jazz, and a bit of drum corps with a percussion feature that was solid and fun. Hsu stated in his introductory video that he is committed to the survivability of live orchestral music, and seemingly to the performance of new works too. I applaud his courage to step on the gas from the start with an unfamiliar work – a bold choice.

The evening cruised along with the introduction of a sparkling young violinist, Kelly Hall-Tompkins. Her vehicle was Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14. Barber is the “Cadillac” of American Composers – high quality with premium craftsmanship and excellent design. He weaves rich orchestrations into seamless violin solos, expertly sent to the audience by a violinist whom we should all keep an eye on. Hall-Tompkins sings through her instrument, with phrasing that brings life, expression and simplicity to otherwise complex melodies.

Hall-Tompkins third movement – Presto in Perpetual Motion – was like rush hour traffic with no accidents. It was harrowing, lively, sometimes delicate, often impossibly complex, and superbly brought together by Hsu and the entire orchestra. It was Hsu’s best movement of the night, in my opinion, and demonstrated his enormous talent and potential to achieve great things here. It brought rousing applause, cheers, and a well-deserved ovation before intermission.

The second half brought Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, standard fare meant to serve as a brake from the forward motion of the first half. By any measure, each of the four new conductors are being supremely challenged, having been asked to test drive a vehicle with complex moving parts powered by high-octane fuel on an unfamiliar race track in front a knowledgeable crowd. No conductor will be perfect, and additional time with the orchestra is a luxury only one will get. It showed in the Brahms, and should be accepted as simply a byproduct of an unusual (and exhilarating) situation.

In the end, the evening was warmly embraced by a very supportive audience, which is frankly one of the best attributes a community orchestra can have. In my mind, this season will be thrilling, harrowing at times, and the first leg of another long journey with a new conductor – whomever that may be.

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