The Columbus Symphony Orchestra embarked on its final journey of the 2015-16 series” The Journey Begins” on a warm, sunny Sunday evening at the Mill Race Park Amphitheater with its concert “Cleared for Launch!”
Performing an eclectic range of musical favorites, the CSO soared through its program, delighting the crowd of all ages which had gathered sitting in lawn chairs, lying on blankets and a few even enduring the concrete bleachers of the amphitheater.
As the temperature at concert time reached 88 degrees, the orchestra rose to perform a rousing rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and we were off on our journey through the stars.
With our feet planted firmly on the ground, the CSO performed Ferde Grofe’s “On the Trail,” from Grand Canyon Suite, complete with many instrumental effects imitating the sounds of the Old West. Starting with a violin solo performed by Alfred Able, soon joined by a percussive “clip-clop” and ending with a well-played keyboard solo, we were off on a ride that was true “Americana.”
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Although at times the amplified sounds of the orchestra were somewhat uneven, the overall effect brought about sustained applause from an appreciative audience. From there, the concert literally “took off.”
Performing “E.T.: Adventures on Earth,” the CSO highlighted many of the different orchestral colors in its musical palate. This reviewer was transported back to his younger days of going to a drive-in movie in a packed car in the heat to see the hits of the day. I kept waiting for the screen to come down and to see ET in the basket of the bike rising into the sky as the music swelled.
The musicality of the orchestra was evident through its artistic rendering of the many musical themes. In this outdoor setting, it is hard to completely recreate the studio recording sound of our movie soundtracks today, but the CSO labored valiantly to provide the audience with a vivid portrayal.
Continuing its “out of this world” theme, the CSO moved into “Star Trek through the Years.” Utilizing the themes from the several “Star Trek” franchises, including movies and TV, the orchestra boldly began with the original TV theme complete with the well known “these are the voyages …” voiced by bassist Andy Saurer.
Unfortunately, the audience was then brought down to earth by the arrival of a train with several loud whistles and a constant click-clack of the railroad tracks throughout the rest of the selection. The orchestra maintained its composure, and under the skillful baton of maestro Josh Aerie completed the piece strongly in spite of sheet music being blown off the stand of a pair of cellists.
Using the moment to “towel off,” conductor Aerie judiciously waited for the train to fade into the distance before beginning one of the orchestra’s finest moments.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” Molto allegro beautifully showcased one of the strengths of this ensemble, the wonderful string section. Playing with a sense of lightness and buoyancy, the strings adeptly maneuvered through the intricacies of the Mozart score, displaying great dynamic contrasts though at times dominating the smaller wind and brass sections. The skill displayed by the CSO was rewarded with a sustained ovation from the audience.
The final selection of the concert was “Star Wars Suite,” by composer John Williams, a multi-movement work of the main themes from the first three movies. Highlighted by many outstanding soloists, the work was punctuated with several moments of applause and was an audience favorite.
The themes were boldly played by each section of the orchestra as the different characters were highlighted, though again, not as polished as the studio recordings our ears are accustomed to in this generation of movie soundtracks. The spirit and integrity of Williams’ score was vividly evident in this rendition by the CSO. It provided a grand ending to this concert “up among the stars” and to the first season of the CSO under the helm of Aerie.
J. Kevin Butler is a graduate of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and was a high school choral director for more than 20 years. He is currently director of music for the First United Methodist Church of Columbus.