The Columbus Symphony Orchestra presented its next-to-last concert for the 2016-17 season Sunday, “Music Americana,” which had a definite hometown and international flavor.
On an afternoon of foreboding skies, the CSO began the concert with the lively “Molly on the Shore” by Percy Grainger, arranged by O. Langley. Grainger was born in Australia in 1882. He became an American citizen in 1916.
This is one of his most famous compositions featuring two Irish reels in a bright energetic dance-like setting. For this selection, the CSO was under the baton of guest conductor Josh Goodman, music director at Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School, the first of our hometown connections. Goodman led the orchestra with a firm style that, except for a brief moment of rhythmic insecurity, produced a full orchestral sound that filled the hall but maintained the light buoyant texture of the original melody.
The second selection of the afternoon brought our next hometown connection in the form of euphonium soloist and Columbus native Albert Miller, now of Pullman, Washington.
Performing “Pantomine for Euphonium and Orchestra” by British composer Philip Sparke, arranged by A. Frey, Miller, who has performed with ensembles nationwide, displayed a remarkable command of his instrument. Opening with a beautiful, sweet tone that quickly entranced the audience, Miller played flawlessly throughout the piece, frequently soaring above the full lush orchestration and intricately articulating rapid rhythmic passages.
Working in perfect sync with maestro Josh Aerie, the two wove together varying styles within the piece for an edge-of-your-seat performance. The CSO played broadly and boldly under Aerie’s baton and Miller constantly amazed the audience with the sounds and style he could produce on the euphonium. Their combined efforts did not go unrewarded as the audience rose to its feet at the conclusion of the number.
As the applause began to fade, music director Aerie introduced the main musical event of the concert, Symphony No. 9 in e minor, Opus 95 “From the New World” by Antonin Dvorak. Dvorak was born in the Czech Republic in 1841, which made all of the pieces in the concert written by composers of international origin. As highlighted in the program notes, written by our final hometown connection, Riley Clark, a sophomore from Hauser, the work used no actual Native American melodies but Dvorak created original themes embodying New World characteristics developed with the resources of the modern orchestra.
These themes have become recognizable today around the world, which makes this symphony an audience favorite. Thus was the challenge to Aerie and the CSO, to give a performance not to disappoint.
The work began quietly and tenderly as the orchestra set the mood for the presentation of the work’s main theme. Under Aerie’s precise and commanding baton, the CSO demonstrated its full range of dynamics in an aggressive and powerful first movement. There were several fine solo moments with only a few minor intonation issues in the woodwind section.
The second movement presented a couple of challenging moments of rhythmic precision, but they were quickly forgotten as the orchestra beautifully presented the theme known as “Going Home.” In this section, there were several outstanding moments for the woodwinds, the horns and the low bass.
Aerie was particularly expressive in this movement, and the orchestra responded with some of its best playing of the afternoon. Having hit its stride, the CSO moved through movements three and four with great skill, demonstrating great dynamic variations and a rich, full sonority.
Highlights included the brass section, the horn section and several outstanding soloists. As the work accelerated to its close, it was evident that the CSO continues to grow under the leadership of maestro Aerie and that this particular challenge had been fully met. As those in attendance rose to their feet, the members of the CSO gratefully acknowledged the applause of the audience for a concert well done.
What: “Hail to the Heroes” pops concert.
When: 5 p.m. June 11.
Where: Mill Race Park amphitheater on Fifth Street in Columbus.
$10 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens, available at the door or at csoindiana.org. Those younger than 12 are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.
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 in Columbus.