John Whittum and John Fielding: Steamboat orchestra wows in weekend performance
March 30, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Sunday's performance of the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra was richly rewarding to the visual and spiritual senses as well as to the ears. Several participants in particular contributed to enhancing this experience to the level of the sublime.
A program of three superb works, all magnificently performed, began with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's "Flute Concerto in D minor." The soloist, Catherine Peterson, of the Colorado Symphony, displayed a technical mastery that appeared effortless in her pursuit of Bach's rapid rills and scaling melodies. In addition to her beauty, she presented such grace that it seemed an expression of natural choreography. A powerful sense of the feminine was also was conveyed by her undulating motions and enhanced by the subtle flutter of her flowing black tunic and grey skirt. The dazzling reflections of the stage lights from the brightly polished silver flute gave a perfect counterpoint to the brilliant image of the large jeweled hair clip and the simple string of diamonds in her necklace, all constantly changing in color and intensity as she performed her graceful gyrations.
She maintained a countenance of serious, focused composure for most of the very demanding composition, only letting a subtle smile of satisfaction and artistic pleasure peek through near the very end.
In perfect harmony was the next featured artist, Erik Peterson, also of the Colorado Symphony, playing solo violin in Kenji Bunch's "Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra." Unlike many modern works plagued with dissonances, Bunch has produced a melodic and surprisingly sweet composition. And Peterson was the expression of masculine in the forceful step forward and the gradual retreat, again in complete correspondence to the music. There was something reminiscent of the rock star lead guitar player both in that dramatic presence and the intricacy of the piece, fingering work of speed and complexity enough to do Eric Clapton proud.
A couple of the regular Steamboat Symphony Orchestra performers contributed their usual enhancements to the experience. Lead cellist John Sant'Ambrogio punctuates his playing with perfectly timed movements of his head, sometimes, as the spirit dictates, including his neck, shoulders and torso until it seems he must no longer be confined to his seat. And the ever-delightful principal second violin Bonnie Murray wears her beautiful smile throughout the performance, in expressions ranging from the simply blissful to the absolutely joyous. Our conductor and artistic director, Ernest Richardson, kept true to his tradition of infecting the listeners with his exuberant enthusiasm, raising laughter as he introduced the guest conductor, our magnanimous patron Jeff Wolf, who had acquired the booking by the "much quicker way" than years of study by being the high bidder for the privilege in the fundraising auction. With a wave of the baton he immediately brought the orchestra into full voice and the audience to a frenzy of joyous participation, clapping hands and stamping feet in response to the unannounced performance of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." His conducting was embellished by first the fifes and then the brass sections leaping to their feet at his direction as their respective solos came up.
And again our esteemed and beloved conductor combined the qualities of impresario and spiritual leader as he gave the introduction to Tchaikovsky's "Fourth Symphony," using phrases such as "joyous melancholy" and relating it to the local audience as he does so brilliantly by comparisons to the advent of mud season at the end of a great winter. But he really plucked at the heart strings several times as he praised the accomplishments of local teachers Teresa Steffan Greenlee and Mary Beth Norris and their highly accomplished students, now coming up into world-class standing, with his prediction that the orchestra will receive the "notice of the world" as the symphony orchestra "most connected to its community." The monumental and epic Fourth Tchaikovsky was performed as brilliantly as hinted by Richardson, and the audience was truly fulfilled in its enjoyment, leaving the hall both pleased and proud, a little in awe of what has, from such humble beginnings, come to pass.