Valerie Davia: Music of victory crowns Steamboat orchestra season

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— In the final concert of its 2011-12 season, the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra played to a packed Strings Music Pavilion on Sunday. Music Director Ernest Richardson began with a lecture and musical demonstration about Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, the concert’s featured work. Brahms began the symphony at age 43 and did not complete it until he was in his 60s because he was striving to meet the symphonic expectations of the post-Beethoven world. It since has become one of the most loved and widely performed symphonies.

Richardson explained the work as a study in conflict: humanity’s capacity for greatness and terrible darkness. The music reflects this with ascending and plunging lines, pleading motifs, musical release through beautiful melodic solos and restful chorales, gathering storms of intensity and, ultimately, joyful, vibrant music that crowns the victory of light over darkness, love over loss and hope over despair. The orchestra demonstrated many of these themes, but especially interesting was the deconstruction of various sections, particularly the opening of the first movement, which sets up the strong conflict. After the orchestra played it as written, Richardson had each section play its respective parts, displaying the wildly differing lines going on simultaneously to create the whole.

Before the full performance of Symphony No. 1, local lawyer Jim Moylan, winner of the auction bid for a chance to conduct the orchestra, gave a very entertaining rendition of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” It’s never too late to offer up a bid for this marvelous opportunity and to support Steamboat’s hometown orchestra in the process.

The performance of Symphony No. 1 generated wild applause and a standing ovation. Richardson’s stage aplomb always delights and complements the professionalism of his players, and the pre-performance education gave the audience all the more to listen for and appreciate. Oboist Tenly Williams and concert master Teresa Steffen Greenlee deserve special praise for their exquisitely rendered solo lines.

Familiar, well-loved music from the final scene of “Star Wars” completed the program. Richardson introduced “The Throne Room” as the “ultimate victory song,” suggesting composer John Williams emulated Brahms in many aspects of his work. Surely, the Force could be felt as the audience disbursed, smiling victoriously and with increasing admiration for the community contributions of the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra.

Valerie Davia coordinates Emerald City Opera’s Artist Institute, part of the Opera Festival each August.

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