Charlie Bates and John Whittum: Orchestra off to electrifying start

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Steamboat Springs Orchestra began its 2008-09 season Saturday night with a concert at the new Strings Music Pavilion, a facility that is beautiful, commodious and excellent acoustically. I would say at my last-row center seat, the sound was slightly bright which favors the strings but all instruments came through splendidly, as does voice as we heard at Gertrude Fetcher's memorial.

The stage is wide enough for the full orchestra of 48 musicians and conductor. Strings directors Betse Grassby and Kay Clagett deserve the thanks of the community and, to the best of our ability, financial support.

The concert began with Franz Schubert's (1797 to 1828) Overture in D "in the Italian Style," played by the entire orchestra, conducted by Ernest Richardson. This unrelentingly beautiful piece is beyond strictly classical, tending toward romantic in its lovely melodies.

We next heard Gioacchino Rossini's (1792-1868) "Variations for Clarinet and Small Orchestra" with Gary Foss on clarinet. As these variations proceed and become quite complex, they demand great virtuosity, to which Mr. Foss was more than equal. The variations also displayed Rossini's strength, which was the mastery of form from the mastery of rhythm.

Finally, we heard Ludwig Van Beethoven's (1770 to 1827) Third Symphony. the "Eroica," in its entirety. Beethoven embraced the ideals of the French Revolution and dedicated the Third to Napoleon but then erased the dedication after Napoleon crowned himself Holy Roman Emperor. Such political disillusionment seems characteristic of romantics; for example, Wordsworth for whom the terror discredited the revolution. By virtue of being less specific, the hero of "Eroica" became more universal, a universality sustained by the music.

The symphony is in four movements. The first is grand, the second funereal, the third a dance, the fourth triumphant. It could be seen as a march of humanity that perseveres in spite of mortality, becoming more joyful and triumphant as the ideals of the French Revolution (a work in progress) must inevitably. Midway through the fourth movement is heard a strangely simple ditty that Beethoven developed into a fugue leading to a magnificent crescendo finale. This was the first romantic symphony, and in it Beethoven was able to bring the symphony to a satisfactory conclusion, a problem composers before him could not resolve.

Saturday night's performance came about because of a happy convergence of Strings' first-class venue, a local orchestra of professional caliber and a judicious choice of music. The hall was almost full, the audience appreciative and the musicians' joy contagious.

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