Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hallelujah! It's Symphony Season Again!

Last year I was introduced to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. I have to admit that my expectations were not particularly high despite the raves that I had heard from my new friends. After all, this is Southwest Florida, not exactly a metropolitan area with lots of talent to draw from, right? Wrong!!! I was blown away by last season's Carmina Burana and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the concerts as well, so I was eagerly awaiting the start of this year's season.

The evening started with a proclamation from the Board of County Commissioners declaring November 5th-12th "Charlotte Symphony Week" in recognition of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and Chorus as an important segment of the arts community in Charlotte County. With the tone having been set, Maestro Wada took the stage, introducing Stewart Kitts as the new concert master before starting the evening's performance.

The first piece was Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b. Overture No. 3 is one of four versions of overtures that Beethoven wrote for what is now known as his Fidelio opera. I was sitting back enjoying the music when I noticed a trumpet player exiting stage right. I was bit curious and thought perhaps he felt faint and needed to get offstage to go sit down. A few moments later, we heard the trumpet heralding from offstage. Mystery solved! Katherine Caldwell's program notes, which I hadn't had a chance to read before the show, tells of the successive trumpet calls signaling the upcoming salvation of Florestan, who has been unjustly imprisoned. (Note to self: Go to Katherine's pre-concert lecture so that you know what to expect.) The evening was off to a good start.

The Symphony and Chorus then turned to the featured music of the evening, Mozart's Requiem. The Requiem is famous for a couple of reasons. First, it is the piece of music most often sung at masses for the dead, ranging from the memorial services for Chopin and Beethoven to the funeral of Napoleon to the performance honoring the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Second, Mozart actually didn't write the entire piece! Mozart died in the midst of composing the Requiem, and his student Franz Xavier Sussmayer finished the piece at the request of Mozart's widow. Who knew???

The Chorus for the Requiem included the Fort Myers Symphonic Matersingers, the Charlotte Chorale, the Port Charlotte High School Enharmonics, the Suncoast Chorale and the Charlotte Symphony Chorus. Soloists Johanna Fincher (soprano), Rachel Nelson Assi (messo-soprano), Brandon Evans (tenor), and Joseph Ryan (baritone) also shared the stage with the Symphony. Although the music was somber, I was struck by the joy in the faces of the singers as they sang the Requiem and the obvious pleasure of the musicians as they once again had the opportunity to showcase their talents.

Maestro Wada always has a trick or two up his sleeve and, once the Requiem had ended to thundering applause, he asked the audience if they were interested in an encore. Of course, but what? The Requiem didn't have any particular chorus to come back to that audience members would be humming on their way out the door. In a stroke of genius, Maestro Wada led the musicians and singers in performing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. It was joyous and uplifting and was the perfect counterbalance to the solemnity of the Requiem.

I would be remiss not to mention that Maestro Wada is retiring at the end of this season due to health issues. It is a huge loss to both the Symphony and the community. Knowing this made the evening one of mixed emotions, much like the tone of the music itself. All the more reason to look forward to the rest of the concert season, especially the Best of Montavani performance in February that Francis is so looking forward to performing. Next up, though, is the holiday pops concert featuring Steve March Torme. I can't wait!

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