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SBSO opens season with richly played program

Stefan Jackiw
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Under the direction of Maestro Tsung Yeh, the South Bend Symphony Orchestra opened its 76th season Saturday night at the Morris Performing Arts Center with a richly played program of challenging new and old music.

The concert began with Miguel del Aguila's "The Giant Guitar," a delightful contemporary piece by the Uruguayan-American composer.

From the work's opening theme based on the six open strings of a guitar (E-A-D-G-B-E) and played on the harp, "The Giant Guitar" moved into a lyrical, exotic melody played vivaciously by the flute section. Lively Latin rhythms propelled the piece's next section, highlighted by the pizzicato playing of the strings and a bright melody played on the xylophone and the flutes. Yeh deftly increased the tempo of the piece leading into its conclusion, changing its tone so that it became increasingly dark and, eventually, violent until it exploded into its climax - bass drum, timpani and siren.

Stefan Jackiw joined the orchestra for Sibelius' Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, and together they gave it a dramatic reading. On his first solo, Jackiw imbued his playing with a keening, almost crying tone powered by his strong use of vibrato set against the stark accompaniment of the orchestra's violins.

Also in the first movement, Jackiw executed the piece's extremely fast melodic runs with precision. He followed that with a mid-tempo Romantic section in which he brought out the warmer tones of the violin's lower register but still managed with his occasional use of vibrato to communicate the loneliness and crying of the opening solo. The first movement concluded with bright and pleasurable but unobtrusive accompaniment by the wind section during Jackiw's solo.

Jackiw opened the second movement with warmer tones and an intimate feeling to his playing, while the winds and French horns provided crucial additional tonal warmth to the movement.

Jackiw jumped into the propulsive first solo of the third movement, playing it brightly with quick, precise fingering and bowing, while the staccato play of the cellos and basses added to the music's sense of forward progression.

As an encore, Jackiw played the Largo from J.S. Bach's Sonata in C Major for Solo Violin with such expressiveness that he all-but-removed the work from its Baroque origins, making it almost Romantic in feeling.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Opus 64, concluded the concert on a grand, sweeping note.

The resonant playing of the clarinets and bassoons opened the symphony, whose momentum and tone Yeh gradually built into a triumphant climax featuring the whole orchestra.

The second movement opened with a plaintive solo on French horn and sweeping, Romantic playing by the string section, which also turned in a highlight with its pizzicato playing later in the movement.

The violins and clarinets played the third movement's opening waltz with elegance, with the clarinet solos sounding breezy and joyous. The string section's pizzicato, however, also provided a counterpoint of tension in its accompaniment.

The timpani and brass section powered the orchestra's assertive and thrilling playing throughout the triumphant fourth movement.

Throughout the concert, Yeh was particularly animated in his conducting, employing sweeping arcs with his arms, crouching at one point, thrusting his left hand forward, palm out, and making gestures to individual musicians. On the Tchaikovsky, especially, but also on the del Aguila and Sibelius pieces, the orchestra responded with deeply expressive and powerful playing that bodes well for the rest of the season.