Review: Rising young pianist helps Philharmonic shine

Pianist Drew Petersen is shown during a previous concert.

By Charles Webb | For The Republic
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It is not often that one attends a classical music concert with music by one composer only. Last Saturday night was an exception to that practice, however, when we heard three pieces, all by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and performed by the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic under the direction of its brilliant artistic director, David Bowden. It was a serendipitous decision, and the result was a superbly played performance of orchestral musicians.

The concert began with a performance of the “Polonaise from Eugene Onegin,” Tchaikovsky’s only opera. Already we can see beautiful examples of his gift for melody and rhythmic excitement.

Following that stirring opening, Drew Petersen took center stage as piano soloist in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, a hallmark of excellence for all concertos in that genre. Petersen has an impeccable technique that enables him to negotiate the most complicated and difficult keyboard passages with remarkable aplomb. He also had a depth of musical intensity that served well the singing lines of Tchaikovsky’s sensuous melodic writing. We shall hear much more about Drew Petersen in months and years to come as his fame and musical accomplishment are trumpeted throughout the world.

To close the concert, maestro Bowden chose the Fourth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, one of the most often-played and highly lauded romantic symphonies. Once again, we hear music of soaring melodies mixed with gruff rhythmic jabs but fused together in a stunning mosaic in Tchaikovsky’s inimitable style.

One of the most striking sections of this captivating work includes all string players playing only pizzicato, a musical term used to describe only plucking the strings and never using a bow to make a legato line. The result is one of the most fascinating sections of a major symphony in all orchestral literature.

This concert’s orchestral writing was also filled with haunting solo passages by section leaders of the philharmonic. Because of their singular contributions to the success of this concert, I want to point out the superb solo playing of the following: Marisa Votapek, concertmaster and violin soloist; Kathy Dell, flute; Jessica Harris, piccolo; Liza Saracina, oboe; Samantha Johnson, larinet; Eric Louie, bassoon, and Scott Holben, horn.

It is my understanding that David Bowden retires at the end of the current concert season.

I would be remiss if I did not point out the incredible leadership that he has given to the Columbus Philharmonic Orchestra over a remarkable 35 years. He actively participated in recruiting and retaining outstanding performers and then molded them into a cohesive whole that brilliantly has presented music of all periods and styles.

His wide knowledge of the orchestral repertoire enabled him to stress diversity as well as attention to the classics. He will be sorely missed in his professional and personal capacities, but will continue to live nearby and give of his wisdom and storehouse of knowledge to all things cultural and educational.