Hometown talent worthy of spotlight at Columbus Symphony concert

The art of making music is alive and well, and its future looks bright in the Columbus area, as evidenced by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s “Hometown Talent” concert presented Feb. 18 at The Commons before a small but enthusiastic crowd.

Featuring several outstanding soloists, a wide variety of musical styles and musicians ranging in ages from preteens to semi-retirees, the symphony under the leadership of maestro Josh Aerie showed why it has endured and flourished for 95 years.

The concert began in what has become known as a side-by-side performance format. Students from the Laura Andrews String Studio sat literally beside the members of the orchestra, performing the same music and learning from their more experienced counterparts. This creative collaboration allowed for a stirring performance of the first selection, “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” by Russian nationalistic composer Alexander Borodin.

Opening with almost inaudible long sustained notes in the strings, the piece featured several outstanding solo moments, some fine horn playing and a strong, full orchestral sound. Despite some moments of tonal insecurity, the piece ended almost as it began with quiet sustained notes and a final cutoff that was dramatically held by Maestro Aerie until rewarded by the audience’s strong applause.

The second selection, Violin Concerto No. 3 in G by Wolfgang A. Mozart, featured violinist Kathryn Tuttle, a student of Andrews. Displaying great poise and a beautiful stage presence, Tuttle performed with a strong technique and fine sense of musicality and style. Her keen focus on conductor Aerie’s agile conducting allowed the two to create a precise and joyous collaboration.

The orchestra and their student counterparts played with a buoyant lightness appropriate to the piece’s style and maintained a wonderful balance with the soloist. Sustained and enthusiastic applause was given to Tuttle and all of the Andrews string students as they left the stage.

A somewhat non-traditional approach was used in the presentation of Antonio Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto in D, RV.93. Arranged by M. A. Wade, the lute part was instead performed by Eric Jarboe on solo hammered dulcimer. It was a beautiful substitution. The string-like quality of the dulcimer was appropriate to the musical style, and the balance between orchestra and dulcimer was particularly good in the Largo movement.

The cheers and vigorous applause signaled that this performance was one of the audience’s favorite moments in the concert.

Next came one of the most musically challenging moments of the concert, the performance of Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with soloist Becky Grelle. Accompanied by the symphony, Grelle played with a rich, clear tone throughout the wide range that the piece demands. It was originally written for big band clarinetist Benny Goodman.

Her rhythmic integrity and stylistic confidence inspired the orchestra to some outstanding intricate rhythmic work in, at times, a Gershwin-like jazz feel. Her adept handling of the angular melodies with their many leaps and skips was well supported by the orchestra under maestro Aerie’s precise conducting, with special mention to work by harpist Erzebet Gaal Rinne and pianist Ed Bruenjes.

Though the work was not as harmonically sonorous as the rest of the concert, its 20th century dissonances and challenging harmonies as well as Grelle’s outstanding performance was enthusiastically acknowledged by the audience.

The final solo showcase of the afternoon featured Paul Hunt on trumpet for Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto in E. Hunt played with rapid-fire articulation and a full, clear tone, while the symphony again did an outstanding job of maintaining a good balance with the soloist.

Featuring more lyric melodic lines, the piece provided a nice contrast to the work preceding and was well received by the audience leading to the final selection of the concert, “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Götterdämmerung, by Richard Wagner and arranged by E. Humperdinck.

Typical of most Wagner works, this piece is highly dramatic with a great dynamic range and many orchestral color contrasts. The orchestra performed with appropriate fullness of tone and outstanding work by the percussion section. Although there were some intonation issues, Aerie’s dramatic conducting brought the piece and the concert to its appropriate big finish and the audience’s standing ovation.

Columbus’ “Hometown Talent” gave us an afternoon to remember and a great future to anticipate.

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 First United Methodist Church of Columbus.