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Symphony's first concert inspiring, full of emotion

By Staff
Editor's note: The following is a review of the Meridian Symphony Orchestra's performance on Saturday night.
By Jess Davis/Special to The Star
Oct. 3, 2001
Beginning with the Italian opera overture, followed by perhaps the finest Russian masterpiece, and concluding with a rarely performed 19th century symphony, the Meridian Symphony Orchestra engaged a full auditorium of enthusiastic concert-goers with a full palette of orchestral color and musical variety.
The evening kicked off with an inspired "Star Spangled Banner." The audience joined in with conviction.
Maestro Claire Fox Hillard conducted a vibrant presentation of Rossini's Overture from La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). Sixty- or so musicians blended in a superb fashion, while themes were handed from one group of instruments to another, finally building to a strong climax.
Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor was definitely the crowd favorite. Again the orchestra provided a beautiful backdrop of harmony, as well as the stirring melodies that place this music at the pinnacle of concerto composition.
Too often, orchestras overlook the importance of equally matching the soloist in quality. This was not the case Saturday night as Van Cliburn silver medalist and Russian pianist Maxim Philippov brought the crowd to its feet with an immediate standing ovation.
Following the intermission, Hillard led the orchestra and the audience on a poetic journey through the beautiful Symphony No. 8 in G major of Czech-born Antonin Dvorak. A new composer comes to mind with each of the four movements in this work.
In the first movement, Dvorak's use of Slavic folk themes seems forward-looking to the vast symphonies of Mahler. In contrast, the adagio's rich harmonic progressions reminds one of the Seventh Symphony of Beethoven, in which the slow movement often evokes tears.
Hillard enabled the symphony to capture this same musical depth. The work of Franz Schubert was contained in the third movement as an entirely happy theme lilts along, then links with a melancholic falling line, giving a sober dimension to the entire section.
The finale has unmistakable characteristics of Brahms. Here, the Meridian Symphony extended its musical range to its highest point of the evening. A robust dance section gives way to a warm and calm oasis, which the strings harmonized perfectly, then suddenly the whole orchestra brought the work to a marvelous end with incredible energy and clarity.
Guest-writer Jesse Davis is a pianist from North Carolina. He earned a master's degree in music from Baylor University in May 2001.

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