Symphony, Philharmonic seasons open strong
Updated: October 2, 2012 9:16AM
“Joie de Vivre.” Who doesn’t want some of that? The Northbrook Symphony opened its 33rd season the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 30 with an all-French program extravagantly titled “The Joy of Life.”
That’s a tall order, but music director Larry Rapchak’s enthusiasm for each piece filled the Sheely Center for the Performing Arts at Glenbrook North and had us hanging on every note.
The centerpiece of the concert came in the second half with organist Patricia Lee as soloist in Saint-Saens massive Symphony No. 3. The ensemble was more than equal to the challenge. Obviously well-rehearsed and poised for the demands of the composer’s score, the symphony players performed with spirit and skill.
This work has an hypnotic theme, and its related variations moved and flowed, sometimes with solemnity, sometimes as a song without words. At one point it was as if all the instruments were whispering to one another.
The first half of the program featured Suite from Nais by Rameau; Bizet’s vibrant “Carillon” from his popular “L’Arlesienne,” (played without a single bell), and Pierne’s “Rapsodie Basque” from his incidental music for the stage work “Romuntcho.”
The pieces were mostly short, quixotic and merry, showing off not only Northbrook’s strings, but its sharp brass section, singing woodwinds, and lively percussion.
No surprise. After all, the French invented those little tasty hors d’oeuvres and sweet bonbons — which substantially contribute to the joy of life.
THE CHICAGO PHILHARMONIC
Alex Klein was the attraction at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, when the Chicago Philharmonic opened its season Sunday evening, Sept. 30. It was a program of mostly Brazilian music, conducted by Brazilian-born Klein, who was principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra until a neurological problem forced him to depart.
But he did play the oboe Sunday night, as soloist in a concerto written for him by a former teacher Osvaldo Lacerda. It was a delightful piece initially sprinkled with dark harmonies, but coming to a merry finale with a feather-light ending.
Conducting while playing the oboe is a challenge not only for the soloist, but for the orchestra, most of whom see him only from the back. At one point the brass section let him down, but mainly the orchestra’s team of pros kept it together.
The program opened with a rousing Overture to the Brazilian opera “Il Guarany” by Antonio Carlos Gomes, and, after the concerto, continued with the lush and lovely “Seresta No. 7” by Liduino Pitombeira, who flew in from Brazil for the performance.
Remember that a not a single member of the Chicago Philharmonic had ever played any one of the three Brazilian pieces before. Yet under Klein’s baton they caught the spirit of the music and delivered an excellent performance.
Tchaikovsky’s familiar First Piano Concerto filled the second half. The Brazilian connection was soloist Arnaldo Cohen, a native of that country who is now a professor at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington.
He played with dazzling virtuosity as Klein drew out the composer’s glorious melodies from the Chicago Philharmonic’s powerful string section.
There was a surprise during intermission. Just outside the hall, the Evanston Escola de Samba presented a riotous half-time show, with multiple drummers and several dancing girls, who wore feathered head gear and glittering costumes. A touch of Carnival in Evanston!