Valerie Davia: Musicians shine at orchestra opener

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Editor's note: This review has been corrected from its original published version. Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Bill Fetcher played his English horn during Joachin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.

The Steamboat Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert Sept. 3 at Strings Music Pavilion began the 20th season with a packed program of three concertos, featuring some of Steamboat’s best-loved soloists, plus Beethoven’s second symphony. The orchestra’s mission — to provide professional-quality performances and educational experiences for musicians of all ages — was visually embodied in the first work, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. By showcasing flutist and Symphony Orchestra founder Mary Beth Norris; her student Patrick Williams, now 22 and a senior at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; and concert master Teresa Steffen Greenlee, also a mentor to Williams as the Steamboat Symphony Youth Orchestra director; listeners could visualize the past, present and future of orchestral music in the Yampa Valley.

Music Director Ernest Richardson introduced Williams with a Steamboat-specific analogy: “He’s already in music’s Olympic trials, and we’re looking forward to his gold medal.” The flutists delivered a rich and full tone that sparkled throughout, and Williams’ difficult solo passages with perfectly executed pianissimos and trills were spine tingling. A touching video tribute to Norris’ dedication to establishing the orchestra followed. Norris insists that “many hands, many hearts and many hours have brought us to this point, plus the tremendous support of this community, we are indeed blessed.”

The Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar by Joachin Rodrigo featured Steamboat resident Steve Boynton, owner of First String Music. The work appeared to be the audience favorite, particularly the familiar second movement, a haunting melody echoing between Boynton’s guitar and the English horn of Bill Fetcher, with a perfectly balanced orchestral accompaniment. At the end of the Adagio, when the full orchestra takes up the melody, the audience was visibly transported.

John Sant'Ambrogio’s artistic mastery shone through on the fiendishly difficult Cello Concerto by composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini. Sant'Ambrogio radiates an exuberance and confidence that made his performance look not only easy, but as if he is playing — not an instrument, but as a child plays. His warm, rich sound and sensitive expression were especially evident in the slow second movement. Sant'Ambrogio’s joyful presence will be sorely missed in Steamboat as he is moving to Santa Barbara to teach at Westmont College this fall.

The three concertos would have been plenty to keep the audience fulfilled. But the evening held even more, with Beethoven’s Second Symphony. Written at a time when Beethoven was increasingly aware of his impending deafness, the symphony nonetheless “sparkles with happiness and the wonderment of the common man.” The performance also sparkled, especially the brass and woodwinds, leaving the audience indeed full of wonderment.

Valerie Davia is the coordinator of Emerald City Opera’s Young Artist Institute.

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