Symphony offers shining performance

The PGSO had another big success on Saturday February 9th with their mainstage concert “German Masters” featuring guest violinist Jasper Wood.

The concert had a lively start with the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances”, which was a replacement for a previously billed work by American composer Adam Hill. I can’t help but think that Bartok might roll in his grave with the insinuation of being German, particularly with his emphasis on the musical folk traditions of the peasant class, as Hungary moved out of the Hapsburg era and was embracing modernistic and patriotic expressions. But nonetheless this was a suitable opening for the program and gave everyone in the audience a dancey way to warm up from the frigid temperatures having just made their way inside from the packed Playhouse parking lot.

Next, we were treated to a stellar performance of the “Violin Concerto in E minor” of Felix Mendelssohn, with Wood as guest soloist. Soon into the opening, I pondered if perhaps Maestro Hall might tend to take unnecessarily safe and overly measured approaches to tempo when performing Romantic era concerti. I felt this earlier in the season during the performance of the Chopin piano concerto. But this is also a matter of personal taste and interpretation. Jasper Wood is such a technically accomplished soloist. He is an athletic performer, with an impeccable emotional vocabulary. His approach to the Mendelssohn, which truly is one of the four great violin compositions of the entire 19th century, was both playful and humourous, yet consistently elegant and refined, which is the perfect fit for Mendelssohn. In this composition, there are many passages where the violinist is actually accompanying the orchestra and I wasn’t quite sure that the ensemble was fully coming to the forefront when the opportunity availed itself, but it was an absolutely delightful performance and was the perfect lead-up to the real highlight of the night, “Symphony No. 7 in A Major” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

This piece is potentially one of the most famous classical compositions of all time – its combination of highly memorable melodies meshed with near-pyrotechnical playing, makes it a perennial audience favourite.

I was impressed with the very polished ensemble work of the orchestra and it really felt like there has been a different approach taken to rehearsals in order to produce such a high-quality presentation of this example of Classical era virtuosity.

Maestro Hall really shines in his role of conductor / performer in these big pieces and what a huge impact his passion and physicality has on elevating the finesse of the orchestra.

Flora Camuzet lead her cello section in the hauntingly beautiful opening of the Allegretto 2nd movement, and really captured the profound blend of tenderness and melancholy of this classic. I also want to give kudos to percussionist Barb Parker. People so often under-appreciate the vital role that the timpanist plays in Beethoven’s symphonies. In these works, the timpanist is very much the gas pedal of the orchestra and Barb really did a great job in keeping everyone bouncing along with dramatic, Napoleonic beats.

I know I have written this before, but it needs to be said again how much Maestro Hall has completely changed our local symphony orchestra, with such consistently professional quality playing, solid ensemble work, and great repertoire selections – almost a 180 degree change just over the past two seasons! It is to the point that I think the orchestra could now focus on some of the little details that mark a truly exceptional performance experience. Perhaps the attire of some of the musicians may need a second look or, we could avoid having purses or backpacks on stage during the performance. I know these are nit picky items, but I’d like to think that it’s a bit of a back-handed compliment to say that the visual now needs to come up to par with the high-quality performances that audiences are now enjoying with the PGSO. And, I do hope that with continued sell-out performances, we will get to build the business case for a bigger and better concert hall in our city. So, I encourage everyone to get their tickets to the next PGSO concert early – “Sea Stories” on March 9 – which includes masterworks by Faure, Smetna and Handel, and will feature the vocal stylings of Prince George’s Nove Voce choir. Tickets are available at Central Interior Tickets.