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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 Daniel Hathaway

JELEN-BRAULTScaled down for a Mozart symphony and concerto and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the Akron Symphony was lean and anything but mean on Saturday evening. The thirty-one players on the stage of E.J. Thomas Hall formed a tight, vibrant ensemble that responded like a high-performance sports car under the baton of Christopher Wilkins and the bow of Olivier Brault, and held bassoon soloist Todd Jelen in a warm embrace.

The highlight was a sensational performance of Vivaldi’s vividly pictorial quartet of violin concertos, for which, in a very smart and gracious move, Wilkins handed the conducting duties over to Brault. The Montréal violinist has dazzled Northeast Ohio audiences as concertmaster of Apollo’s Fire, but has rarely found himself in the position of having complete control over a performance.

Positioned in the middle of the string ensemble, Olivier Brault — always dashing and stylish — turned into a blur of kinetic energy, playing like a rock guitarist to his violin colleagues one moment, now swiveling around to communicate with the cellos and basses, then drawing himself in for intimate conversations with solo cellist Miles Richardson and harpsichordist Robert Mollard. Read the rest of this entry »

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