The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic “All for Love” concert, presented Feb. 3 in the Judson Erne Auditorium, was an evening of musical stories describing how people relate to each other and to the world around them. It was a musical feast for the ears and a visual feast for the eyes.
Opening the concert in dim light, a spotlight rose on a single percussionist, Brian McNulty on snare drum, who began a rhythmic pattern that would be continuously repeated throughout the entire selection of “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel.
As additional solo instruments were added, each was highlighted by a brief moment in a spotlight which noted their entrance until the entire stage was filled with bright light and the orchestra soared in sonorous splendor to a musically exhilarating climax. Although there was some lack of cohesiveness in the first few moments of the piece, as more instruments were added the orchestra played brilliantly, led by McNulty’s rock solid rhythmic pulse to which the audience responded with cheers and sustained applause.
Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden then briefly told the story of the second piece, “Song to the Moon” scene from Rusalka, op. 114 by Antonin Dvorak. A water sprite falls in love with a handsome man, who then asks the moon to act on her behalf to tell the man of her love.
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As the orchestra began to play softly, a full moon appeared on the stage left wall of the auditorium followed by the entrance of guest artist Cathy Berns Rund on the far right side of the stage, giving the appearance that she was singing to the moon while allowing her voice to carry out to the audience.
Rund sang with a beautiful lyric soprano tone that created a great sense of intimacy even in the expansive auditorium. Although some of the text was hard to understand because of her stage placement, her expressive singing easily portrayed the sensitivity and lyricism of this beautiful love song. Bowden and the Philharmonic are to be commended for their diligent efforts to not cover her vocal sound in this selection, as well as in the one that followed, “O Mio Babbino Caro,” from Gianni Schicci by Giacomo Puccini.
Again, Rund sang with great beauty of tone and her soft high notes were especially thrilling, holding the audience in a moment of breathtaking silence before bursting into enthusiastic applause.
As Rund departed the stage, Bowden introduced the second guest artist, violinist Ariel Horowitz, for her performance of “Carmen Fantasy” A Concert Fantasy on Themes for Violin and Orchestra, op. 25 by Pablo de Sarasate. At age 21, Horowitz displayed a poised stage presence and technical virtuosity far beyond her years as she deftly maneuvered through intricate passages of this piece, written by a violinist in order to showcase his own virtuosity.
Of particular note was her ability to produce incredibly high notes on her violin that were so beautifully effortless that they seemed to whistle the familiar tunes of this beloved opera. Watching her was almost as exciting as listening to her as her instrumentation danced its way through the most technically challenging moments of the piece.
Her collaboration with Bowden was exhilarating as he adeptly and commandingly led the orchestra through many tempo changes and a dynamic rollercoaster ride of emotion, which ended with loud cheers and such an ovation from the audience that Bowden had to bring her back to the stage for a second bow before intermission.
The second act began with Bowden telling the story of the symphonic poem, “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” by Richard Strauss and highlighting some of the musical motifs that would be presented by the orchestra. The performance of the piece was a musical highlight itself as the Philharmonic demonstrated its mastery of both its technique and musicality.
From individual soloist to small group to the full orchestra, the ensemble delighted the ear and Bowden delighted the eye as he dramatically interpreted the story with his emphatic gestures, intricate baton technique and expressive body language. The audience continued to applaud long after Bowden had acknowledged all the soloists and the full orchestra.
The remainder of the program featured the combined efforts of the two guest artists and the orchestra.
“L’Amero saro constante” from Il Re Pastore by Wolfgang A. Mozart, Vocalise, op. 34, No. 14 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (sung with no text but with tremendously effective expression) and “My Funny Valentine” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, arranged by Dan Powers with a bossa nova beat, each showcased the musicianship and tonal beauty of all the participants.
All three pieces allowed Rund and Horowitz moments to individually shine and then intricately collaborate as the orchestra provided strong but never overpowering support. As the audience’s applause lingered, Bowden brought back both performers to the stage for an encore tune, “Tomorrow,” by Richard Strauss.
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.