The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic presented its “Stand and Shout!” concert Saturday at Judson Erne Auditorium. By the end of the concert, the audience had done just that, several times.
Featuring guest artist Leonardo Altino on cello, the concert was an evening of musical masterpieces performed majestically and masterfully by Altino, maestro David Bowden, several outstanding Philharmonic soloists and the full orchestra itself. It was a concert that will long be remembered and appreciated by all those in attendance.
The concert opened with “Carnival Overture” by Antonin Dvorak. From its rousing orchestral opening with a full-but-not-overpowering brass sound to the many dynamic contrasts and changes of tempo artfully handled by the orchestra under the baton of Bowden, the piece provided a stirring opening to the concert and highlighted the overall balance and beauty of the instrumental ensemble. Careful placement of particular instruments and sections allowed the elaborate color scheme of the orchestra’s tone to be fully explored and developed so as to elicit an enthusiastic and sustained response from the audience not normally heard so early in a concert.
At this point, Bowden formally introduced Altino to the audience and, with his assistance, shared the back story of the work to follow, “Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 104”, also by Dvorak.
Begun while Dvorak was working in the United Sates, the piece reflects his homesickness for his native Bohemia and his personal feelings upon learning of the illness of his sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, whom he had once longed to marry. Using melodic material from one of his earlier songs, which was one of Josefina’s favorites, Dvorak memorialized his feelings for her in the middle movement of the concerto.
He was so emotionally connected to those feelings for Josefina that upon learning of her death, he changed the ending of the concerto. With this story providing the audience with a personal connection to the music and having had Altino play the melody of the Dvorak song so the audience would recognize it, Bowden began the concerto.
From his first moment on the stage, Altino exuded his total immersion in and commitment to the music he was playing. Even as he waited for his first entrance, he was emotionally connected to the rest of the orchestra as he swayed with the music and his face changed expression as the music around him changed.
Then with a dramatic flair, he began playing, and it was as if he and the cello were one. His tone was silky yet powerful and his range of dynamic expression ran the gamut of musical style. The intricate interplay of this mellow instrument not known for its extreme power and the rich fullness of the orchestra was breathtaking.
Occasionally, Altino wanted to move the music faster than the orchestra could possibly follow, but Bowden worked diligently to keep the Philharmonic right in step as they rode the roller coaster of Altino’s musical emotions. The piece came to a wonderful conclusion as Altino relished in the musicality of the musicians around him, particularly concertmaster Alan Snow. The audience responded with shouts of “Bravo” and an almost instantaneous standing ovation.
Responding to the audience’s sustained applause, Altino returned to the stage for an encore. Performing a work by Johann Sebastian Bach without the benefit of an orchestral accompaniment, the sheer beauty of the cello as a solo instrument and the expertise of Altino’s playing was abundantly evident.
Erne Auditorium was silent as the audience hung onto every note that effortlessly rang through the hall. With impeccable intonation and exquisite phrasing, this piece that has been known as a musical exercise became a thing of beauty and the audience again responded with enthusiastic applause.
The second half of the program was the Philharmonic’s performance of Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.” Now considered as one of Tchaikovsky’s most successful orchestral structures, the Fifth Symphony features a familiar fate motif and explores the wide range of emotions so identifiable with Tchaikovsky.
Because of this familiarity as the most frequently performed of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, and the excitement of Altino’s performance in the first half, one might worry that this performance might be lacking in comparison. This was not the case.
From the quiet opening to the raw power of the full orchestra, throughout the entire dynamic range of pianissimo to fortissimo, and moving effortlessly through both subtle and drastic tempo changes, the Philharmonic performed brilliantly. The strings soared through the beautifully composed Tchaikovsky melody and the brass filled the auditorium with a rich, sonorous sound. Although the beginning of the third movement lacked some of the cohesiveness of the rest of the concert, the orchestra seemed to get a second wind halfway through the movement and from then on it was truly a musical delight to enjoy.
There were many outstanding solo moments from the Philharmonic during the concert, but a few highlights were concertmaster Snow, Brian McNulty on percussion/tambourine, Zach Stump on clarinet, Eric Louie on bassoon, Vicki Hastings on trumpet and Alana Wiesing on timpani. Conductor Bowden must also be congratulated for his exciting programming, his choice of Altino as guest artist and for his expressive and artistic conducting on the Tchaikovsky piece.
The concert came to an exciting end, and — as the title suggested — caused the audience to “Stand and Shout!”
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.