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by Daniel Hathaway

Akron-VirtuososSymphony orchestras sometimes showcase internal talent rather than laying on touring soloists. On February 22, the Akron Symphony turned the spotlight on several of its own “virtuosos”: its estimable horn section, its principal cellist and its assistant conductor all got their moment to shine before the ASO widened the beam to illuminate the whole ensemble in a brilliant concerto for orchestra.

Music director Christopher Wilkins began the evening with a brief prolegomena, then introduced his assistant, Levi Hammer, who led a stirring performance of Zoltán Kodály’s Dances of Galanta from memory. Based on gypsy melodies collected in the Hungarian village of Galanta, the piece gave a few virtuosi in the orchestra their own cameo appearances: clarinetist Kristina Belisle Jones was splendid in two spiraling cadenzas and flute, piccolo and oboe contributed handsome lyrical passages. The ASO musicians gave Hammer a fraternal solo bow when he was called back to stage. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Mike Telin

Sound-Gallery-(Gary-Adams)Yes, there is chamber music, but it’s not a chamber music concert in the traditional sense,” bassoonist Renee Anthony Dee told us by telephone. “It is cabaret.” On Friday, November 8, beginning at 8:00 pm in the Akron Civic Theatre, the Akron-based mixed ensemble Sound Gallery presents their debut concert as part of the Civics Cabaret series. (The audience is seated on the stage and is invited to treat the evening like a club concert.)

Dee says the ensemble developed out of the members’ shared experience of feeling a closer connection to the public during their Knight Foundation-sponsored Random Acts of Culture performances. “We hope to expand the traditional concert format by combining many styles of music and to include the audience in the making of art.” Friday’s program is billed as an intimate evening of Homecomings and includes music that celebrates family and friends.

In addition to some old favorites like Dvorak’s “Going Home” from his New World Symphony and a sampler of Stephen Foster’s songs, audience members will also have the opportunity to become part of the performance through poetry, an idea that coalesced out of National Public Radio’s StoryCorps. “We’ll invite the audience to write something about what homecoming — or at this time of year, coming home for Thanksgiving — means to them. During intermission we’ll turn whatever we get into a narration that will be read during Jean-Michel Damase’s Seventeen Variations.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

FILJAK-Martina-GreenThough the Finns and the Russians have often had a complicated relationship in recent times, their musical icons — Sibelius and Tchaikovsky — made agreeable partners on Saturday evening’s Akron Symphony program in E.J. Thomas Hall when Christopher Wilkins led Sibelius’s Finlandia, The Swan of Tuonela and Symphony No. 7 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Two extraordinary soloists, the ASO’s English hornist Cynthia Warren and Croatian pianist Martina Filjak (left), were out in front for the occasion.

The first half of the program belonged to Jan Sibelius, beginning with a robust performance of his patriotic tone poem, Finlandia, composed for an 1899 tableau, Suomi, that advocated the overthrow of Russian rule. As in the previous ASO concert, winds and brass were elevated on risers, which gave those sections more prominence. But with a smaller orchestra this time, sections didn’t blend with each other quite as well. Percussion and brass stood out, sometimes engulfing the strings.

Sibelius set to music four legends of Lemminkainen from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. In the composer’s words, “Tuonela, the land of death, the hell of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a broad river with black waters and rapid currents, on which the Swan of Tuonela floats majestically, singing.” There’s more to the legend, but The Swan of Tuonela contents itself with painting the scene of the river and the swan in a gorgeously mournful melody for English horn and orchestra. Read the rest of this entry »

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