Review: DSSO opens season of guest conductorsSymphony Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center became colorfully alive Saturday night with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra season-opening concert.
By: Samuel Black, for the News Tribune
Symphony Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center became colorfully alive Saturday night with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra season-opening concert. Contributing to this brilliance was a guest pianist, a conductor-candidate, a musical trip through an art gallery and a sparkling opener from a composer never before featured in Duluth.
At the center of the evening was Rei Hotoda, assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the first of five candidate conductors this season vying for the role of next conductor and music director of the DSSO.
Throughout the evening, she conducted primarily with her whole arm and seldom with just her wrist. This kept her in full motion, and the orchestra responded by offering a crisp, precise ensemble for two hours.
Hotoda opened the evening with “Blue Cathedral,” a 1999 composition by the young American composer Jennifer Higdon. This marked the first time Higdon’s name had appeared in a DSSO program. Her brother’s recent death and a commission by the Curtis Institute of Music led to this testament to the incredible beauty of music. Flute and clarinet carry on a steady dialogue, with bells and piano hovering around in the string-filled sensation of open air. The orchestra responded warmly to both the music and the conductor.
Guest Canadian pianist Katherine Chi came onstage with Hotoda and with no hesitation launched into the thunderous opening chords of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Once again the DSSO seemed extremely confident, and the brilliant, flashy playing by Chi captured the attention of the audience.
During the second movement there was a bit of confusion between the orchestra and pianist, but being skillful musicians, they resolved all in the true spirit of live music. The vivacious third movement danced away, with Chi’s wrists extremely flexible as she blazed through the difficult octave passages.
With large smiles, Hotoda and Chi returned for more applause, then sat down at the Steinway to play the most familiar “Marche Militaire” duet by Franz Schubert. The audience rose to continue the applause.
The second half of the concert was filled with “Pictures at an Exhibition,” one of the most colorful orchestral pieces ever created, thanks to the sensitive skills of Maurice Ravel. He took the piano suite by Modest Mussorgsky and arranged it for full orchestra, taking advantage of the tones of each instrument, including a rare appearance of alto saxophone. Greg Moore enjoyed singing in front of “the old castle,” as much as Earl Salemink enjoyed pleading for help with his muted trumpet. Finally, the outrageous excitement of the Baba Yaga clock and the profundity of the Great Gate of Kiev brought this gallery tour to a close.
The orchestra was highly attentive to Hotoda’s baton, and the other four candidate conductors will make this a spectacular season to follow. The DSSO has to respond to each of these styles this year, which is another reason that this should be a vibrant season. The sequel will occur Saturday, Oct. 1, with yet another candidate conductor. I hope you take advantage of this highly creative season.
Samuel Black is a Duluth pianist and writer who hopes that live music will outlive us all.