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by Tom Wachunas

CSO-ZImmermannDescribing this season’s final concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Umstattd Performing Arts Hall on April 26 brings to mind a bevy of feel-good bromides. Still, none would be more apropos than “out of this world.”

Everything that makes this orchestra truly noteworthy was in full force. With just two works on the program – Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter”, and Holst’s The Planets, the orchestra under Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann thrilled the capacity audience with its broad palette of commanding sonority, astonishing technical virtuosity and gripping expressionism.

Zimmermann’s reading of Mozart’s greatest symphonic accomplishment was brilliantly balanced in its moderate pacing, precision of textures, and palpable affection for Mozart’s intricate, complex mixing of thematic motifs. That intricacy is clearly apparent in the first movement’s melding of majestic pomp with gentle graciousness. Even more so, the second movement is a sumptuous triad of contemplative, fiery and calming moods. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Tom Wachunas

CSCIn celebration of its 30th Anniversary, the Canton Symphony Chorus joined the Canton Symphony Orchestra on February 16 for the Masterworks Series concert at Umstattd Hall. Augmented by the Malone University Chorus, the combined vocal ensemble of 125 members, conducted by Chorus Director Britt Cooper, gave a truly beautiful account of the first work on the program, Mozart’s brief motet, Ave verum corpus (Hail True Body). Hushed and ethereal, the performance was nonetheless an inspiring tone-setter for the more dramatically expansive Brahms German Requiem that followed, conducted by Gerhardt Zimmermann.

Unlike the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead, this requiem eschewed the blunt Biblical language of a wrathful God dispensing the fire and brimstone of the Last Judgment. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

WATTS-AndreAmerican composer Arthur Foote (1853-1937) once wrote that “…the object of the artist should be to tell us in music…the truths of life and the beauty and sublimity of life.” It is an operative philosophy that inspired his best works. The most famous of those is his Suite for Strings in E Major, which was the first selection on the January 25 Canton Symphony Orchestra Masterworks program that spotlighted American composers. I think it fair to say that the other composers on this program shared Foote’s musical outlook.

His Suite for Strings is a brilliant platform for showcasing the depth and sensitivity of this orchestra’s string section. From the lush and pastoral sweep of the first movement, the delightful precision of the Tchaikovsky-esque Pizzicato second movement, and throughout the churning power of the finale, the orchestra was altogether breathtaking. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

PALMER-CoryAmong the more delightful inventions of human creativity is the string section of an orchestra. Think of it as the aural equivalent of a painter’s palette laid out with a full spectrum of pigments. Just as certain hues (singly or in combination) can conjure certain subjective responses from viewers, so too the timbres of particular stringed instruments are well-suited to elicit specific emotional states or images in the listener.

I tell you this in a spirit of surprise at the opening concert of this season’s Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Casual Series. These are informal, recital-style performances in Cable Recital Hall, spotlighting members of the CSO. The January 9 concert featured CSO Principal Bassist Cory Palmer along with guest pianist Katherine Monsour Barley. The eclectic program included the Baroque era Sonata in g minor by Henry Eccles; four short, early 20th century pieces by Serge Koussevitzky; four more short works for solo bass by contemporary composer Dave Anderson; and Elegy and Tarantella by Giovanni Bottesini, often remembered as “the Paganini of the double bass.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

Yekel-AmyThe Canton Symphony Orchestra enlisted Thomson Smillie, the acclaimed opera producer, stage director and lecturer, as guest speaker for its April 20 season finale concert at Umstattdt Hall. His observations before and during the first half of the program, consisting of three selections from Wagner operas, were delightfully astute and witty, and it’s difficult to imagine a more excited champion of Wagner’s impactful genius.

In retrospect, Smillie’s directive to the audience on how to best embrace the first work of the evening, Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, and the third selection, Brünnhilde’s Immolation scene from Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), seems somewhat curious if not counterintuitive. Smillie posited that the dramatic thrust of these works cannot be wholly appreciated via the inadequate (and perhaps even silly) words in the libretto, but rather through the cascading orchestral surges he compared to musical orgasms. While we hear the singer with our ears and see her with our eyes, he explained further, we must listen to the orchestra with our hearts to experience what words on their own could never impart. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

ZIMMERMN-GerhardtIf there is a single idea that remains maddeningly entangled with my overall sense of the March 23 program by the Canton Symphony Orchestra, it is that love is a many splintered thing. For it was largely a theme of love, in wildly diverse applications, that united the three works on the program: Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Canti guerrieri ed amorosi (Songs of War and Love) by American composer Claude Baker, and Symphony No. 5 by Dmitri Shostakovich. The evening was a stormy orchestral journey, some of it difficult to navigate, but ultimately richly rewarding.

Not surprisingly, the performance of the Beethoven overture was utterly entrancing. With inspiring clarity, the orchestra wholly embraced the work’s intense pathos and urgent drama of undeserved suffering and the resolute power of heroic love.

The second selection of the evening was the much touted world premiere of Claude Baker’s Canti guerrieri ed amorosi, which was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, and written specifically to commemorate the CSO’s 75th Anniversary. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

CSO-HistoricOn February 16, 1938, the newly formed Canton Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard W. Oppenheim, gave its first-ever concert at the Canton City Auditorium before a sold-out crowd of 3,300 listeners. Seventy-five years to the day after that rousing debut, the CSO re-created the same program in Umstattd Hall with a clearly impassioned Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann at the podium, conducting an equally inspired orchestra. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

ViveWATTS-Andre le Français was the theme for the January 26 concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Umstattd Hall, featuring works by Debussy, Ravel, Franck and Saint-Saëns. Maybe a more apropos title for the evening would have been Vive le Watts, as in the eminent pianist, André Watts. His return to Canton (the last being in 2010) begins a three-year CSO residency. The 2014-15 season promises to be especially momentous, when he will perform all of Beethoven’s piano concertos with Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting.

In some ways, the concert brought to mind a twist on the old adage, “a watched pot never boils.” For programmatically, this watched pot, so to speak, did finally bubble over, and explosively so, though only after a long, lingering simmer. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

TheDeJongh-&-Beck January 11 Casual Series chamber concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Cable Recital Hall was an utterly fascinating aural adventure. Principal flutist Katherine DeJong and principal percussionist Matthew Beck combined their remarkable skills to deliver a captivating program of works with scintillating textures, intriguing melodies, and infectious rhythms.

Two of the seven works on the program were duets for flute and percussion: Henri Tomasi’s Le Tombeau de Mireille, and Lou Harrison’s First Concerto for Flute and Percussion. The Tomasi piece, with Beck steady on drum and DeJong pure and piercing on piccolo, is at many points a frolicsome dance, at others a slow, solemn march. The performance conjured the spirit of medieval troubadours traversing the French countryside. Read the rest of this entry »

 by Tom Wachunas

ItZIMMERMN-Gerhardt is always something of a letdown when Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann doesn’t preface a program selection at a Canton Symphony Orchestra concert with his special brand of wit, sardonic or otherwise. Ever the engaging raconteur, he didn’t disappoint on the occasion of the December 2 performance at Umstattd Hall.

One of the unique elements in this concert, billed as Audience Choice, was that the three program selections were chosen from a list voted upon by loyal CSO subscribers. The list consisted of three overtures, three piano concertos, and three symphonies which Zimmermann offered for consideration at the end of last season. The winning selection for the first work on the program was Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie). Read the rest of this entry »

85-year-old piano legend Menaham Pressler will preside over a master class on Saturday morning, October 10, and play a Mozart Concerto with the Canton Symphony under Gerhardt Zimmerman that night at 8, all thanks to Canton’s executive director Steve Wogaman, who was a doctoral student of Pressler’s at Indiana University.

Wogaman noted that “Pressler has a command of the physiology of piano playing without equal. The really amazing thing is that he teaches a sensibility for the deep understanding behind every single note. He misses nothing! We were lucky to snap him up the moment the Beaux Arts Trio disbanded and before he signed with Columbia Artists Management. I suggested that he play a certain Mozart concerto. He said ‘that sounds great, but if you have a really fine oboist, we can do No. 17’. Canton does in Terry Orcutt, and so we will!”

Read the rest of this entry »

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