‘Spooktacular’ start to the season

A small but appreciative audience on Sunday enjoyed the opening concert of the 94th season of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra at The Commons.

“Boo! Things that Go Bump in the Orchestra” featured the CSO in a fun-filled afternoon of some the most familiar orchestral works with themes or stories appropriate for a Halloween concert. Although the afternoon was not particularly frightening, it was a “bootiful spooktacular” of works to delight the wide range of ages present.

The concert opened with “Night on Bald Mountain,” by Modest Mussorgsky and adapted by his friend Nikolay Rimsky-Korsokov. As shared in the program notes, Mussorgsky never heard this work performed. If he had heard the CSO’s version, he would have been impressed with the strong beginning featuring the low brass and strings. Equally impressive was the flexibility in tempi demonstrated by the orchestra throughout the work under the skilled baton of maestro Josh Aerie. The percussion section was appropriately aggressive and several outstanding solo moments from various sections of the orchestra led the audience to a sustained burst of applause at the conclusion of the work.

The orchestra then performed “Funeral March of a Marionette,” by Charles Gounod, known to older members in the audience as the theme from the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television series of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The oldest performing symphony orchestra in Indiana appears to be getting its second wind in its second year under the baton of Aerie, the fifth musical director in the orchestra’s 94-year history. Playing with articulate confidence and a strong rhythmic sense of purpose, the CSO again delighted its audience with this familiar work.

The next two pieces of the concert, while recognizable to the ears of most members of the audience, are not as well known by their titles.

“Funeral March,” from “Piano Sonata No. 2, Opus 35,” by Frederic Chopin, and “March to the Scaffold,” from “Symphonie Fantastique,” by Hector Berlioz, filled the spacious Commons with ghoulish musical themes befitting the fall October afternoon. The brass section again shined while some issues of balance between the sections became evident in the cavernous acoustic of the hall but was quickly dismissed by a strong finish to the second selection.

“Transylvanian Lullaby,” from “Young Frankenstein,” the Mel Brooks film, gave concertmaster Phil Palermo a moment to showcase his great talent and virtuosity on the violin. Although at times covered by the other strings, Palermo demonstrated restrained flamboyancy with an artistic flair. One wished that he might have been electronically amplified so that we could have fully appreciated his musical contribution. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable moment of lightness in a macabre concert.

Aerie chose to program with the longest and perhaps most challenging work of the afternoon, “The Water Goblin, Opus 107,” by Antonin Dvorak. About 20 minutes in length, the appreciation of the audience for the work was greatly enhanced by the wonderful program notes written by Josh Goodman. Telling the story of this 19th century tone poem about a lonely goblin, the program notes helped the audience follow this Czech poem as we would the ghost stories told around a campfire in the Halloween season.

Displaying a wonderful sense of lyricism and lightness, the CSO followed maestro Aerie’s dance-like conducting with beautiful phrasing and soaring melodies. Although the work did expose some technical moments of difficulty within the orchestra, it did not detract from the audience’s appreciation of the effort. Despite the occasional noisy distractions of the open space of the Commons, the audience rewarded the afternoon of Halloween musical fun by the CSO with a sustained standing ovation.

If this opening concert is a vision of things to come for this 94th season of the CSO, the community of Columbus has much to look forward to.

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 currently is director of music for the First United Methodist Church of Columbus.

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.