Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Elgin Symphony Premiers Two Classics with Passion and Drama

A large audience was delighted by a concert of "Passionate Drama" performed by the Elgin Symphony Orchestra Sunday at the Hemmens. An excellent program and effective marketing generated the longest lines we've seen at the box office so far this season.

Bedrich Smetana's "Sarka" (1876) and Antonin Dvorak's "Symphony No. 7" (1885) were the Czech and Czech mate in these two victorious premieres for the ESO. Principal clarinetist Gene Collerd led a stalwart wind section whose precision continues to impress.

Remarks by a poised and affable Maestro Andrew Grams are always welcomed, and his introduction to "Sarka" was especially well placed, since the excellent program notes are hard to read in small print under dim light.

Dvorak's Seventh spoke for itself in symphonic language that all listeners understood. Its Beethoven-like development of atomic musical ideas was recounted convincingly by a very well-rehearsed ensemble, and smiling patrons were amazed the piece had never been heard in Elgin before.

The concert highlight was a stellar performance of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto (1941) performed by magnetic soloist Philippe Quint. Barber's modern American variety of styles provided Quint an intriguing three-part platform for displaying his technical and interpretive genius. 

Violinist Philippe Quint performs with Andrew Grams and the Elgin Symphony Orchestra
The 1708 Stradivarius gave a mellow voice to the low register, and was satiny smooth as Quint worked the upper positions with amazing tone and accuracy. The orchestra is forgiven for being overly sympathetic in just a few places.

After Quint's performance, the ladies were the first to leap from their seats with applause before settling down to pore over his biography. The body language between the charismatic Quint and Grams was a feast for the eyes and the ears.

Moving freely around the podium, Grams was at his best, injecting passion into every phrase, and drawing out long, dramatic pauses between second and third movements. Yet he's aware the most important part of any piece for the audience is its ending, and these three works were superbly combined to leave the audience, after more than ninety minutes, still wanting even more.

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