Saturday marked the first performance of the Macon Symphony Orchestra with its newly appointed conductor and music director, Ward Stare. As part of his commitment to music education, he gave a 20-minute informal talk of his perceptions of the pieces on the program, and followed it by taking questions from those in attendance. This was held in the hall at the Grand Opera House one hour before the performance.
I usually think going to a lecture is something that stretches my intellect but is not particularly fun. Stares was both informative and fun regardless of how much or little musical background the participants possessed. He will be doing this before each concert, and I would highly recommend trying to make it a regular part of your evening at the symphony. His sometimes self-deprecating wit and charm allows us to see the man and not just the conductor, just as he helps the listeners to see the inner workings of the orchestra and its repertoire.
The performance was his first as a fully independent music director, so he chose three of his favorite pieces to commemorate the day. Truly great music holds appeal through time and distance and is as fresh and alive in the year of its composition as it is hundreds of years later. So it is no surprise that Stares choices were also on most of the audiences favorite play lists. Stare brought us a performance that held a great deal of passion yet required considerable skill on the part of the musicians.
The opening work was Richard Strauss tone poem, Don Juan. This piece is programmatic, which means the composer had a story in mind. In this case, the story is a poem about the amorous Don Juan, a man who loved women to distraction (or destruction as he is portrayed in Mozarts opera Don Giovanni).
The MSO, under Stares baton, gave a spirited performance that was sensitive to the programmatic intent. This piece is known for its technical difficulty and provided an excellent showcase for both conductor and orchestra. For the most part, the treacherous passage work was very well done.
The Beethoven Triple Concerto was next on the program. This is not performed as often because it requires three soloists instead of one. All three soloists must be accomplished musicians and must work and communicate well together to present a unified and balanced performance.
Stare tapped the newly formed Cortona Trio for this honor. The members of the trio are violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, cellist Julie Albers, and pianist Elizabeth Pridgen. These three young soloists provided not only technical expertise, but a successful fusion of musical ideas and considerable panache.
The final work was the longest of the program, but so very familiar as to be universally loved in both classical music circles and even popular music of the mid 1900s. Tchaikovskys Fifth Symphony proved to be the crown of the evening. This performance was both well paced and truly Russian in its emotion and sentimentality. The multiple solos for orchestra members or sections were predominantly well done. Stares conception of the slow movement was particularly good.
MSOs new conductor has a good and varied repertoire of conducting gestures that elicited proper responses from the orchestra. Being essentially without a conductor for the past two years, it is good to hear once again all that the Macon Symphony Orchestra has to offer under unified leadership. This bodes well for things to come.