Monday, September 15, 2014

Grams Returns to Launch Elgin Symphony Season

Music Director Andrew Grams greets the audience at The Hemmens.
The Elgin Symphony Orchestra began its 2014-2015 season Saturday and Sunday at The Hemmens, led by Music Director Andrew Grams whose numerous appearances elsewhere last season prompted the opening weekend's title: "Andrew Grams is Back!"

The audience rose with the orchestra for the National Anthem, featuring a guest cymbalist—none other than ESO Board Chairperson Karen Schock.

Following a friendly introduction to the all-German program, Grams cued the first of three pieces written as introductory movements of landmark romantic operas. The "Overture to Der Freischutz" (1821) by Carl Maria von Weber and the beautiful "Prelude to Act I, Lohengrin" (1850) by Richard Wagner were given exquisite treatment, but both are a bit slow-developing to kick off a "homecoming" season premiere.

Wagner's ebullient masterpiece "Prelude to Die Meistersinger" (1868) eventually delivered the panache and fanfare to match the hall's enthusiasm for their beloved orchestra and returning maestro.

Beethoven's famous Symphony No. 5 in C Minor (1808) concluded the 90-minute performance. Players even deep within sections were physically animated as Grams masterfully articulated the dramatic phrases and pauses of the work's four movements, accentuating as Beethoven would, aesthetics over technical detail.

Roars of approval from the audience were rewarded with a rousing encore performance of Wagner's "Prelude to Act III, Lohengrin" (1850).

The ESO's world-class guest artists have shown us that great performances rely on an artist's deep knowledge—even memorization—of the music. This concert excelled in part because Maestro Grams never needed his score.

Some say the best time to visit a fine restaurant is when a talented young chef sets out to make a name for himself, since it promises exceptional quality and variety. Likewise, the best time to hear an orchestra is when a new music director plans his first few seasons, and for the ESO that time is now.