The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, under the music direction of conductor Scott Terrell, opened its 2017-18 season Saturday night with a colorful program aptly entitled “Bright.” An international flavor prevailed in the Singletary Center Concert Hall as the orchestra presented extroverted pieces from the United States, Norway, Argentina, and France.
The evening began with a cheerful, vivacious American work, “Bright Blue Music” by Michael Torke. The composer calls for a large orchestra with extended trumpet and percussion sections, and gives ample opportunity for all the instrumental families to shine, which the Philharmonic seized. Maestro Terrell handled the rhythmic quirks and thick textures well, building toward an exuberant tutti at the end. The last chord, a fading glow by a trio of piccolos, shimmered in the air, prompting the audience to gasp in unexpected pleasure before bursting into applause.
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South Korean pianist Joyce Yang headlined the concert in Edvard Grieg’s ever-popular “Piano Concerto in A Minor.” Striking a beautiful figure in a fuchsia gown, Yang did much more than ornament the stage: she projected the dramatic concerto into the back rows of the hall, from the most robust to the most delicate of sonorities. She filled the familiar melodies with intense expression and shaped them with imaginative phrasing. The orchestra provided a sumptuous, yet sensitive accompaniment for her. The hushed moment in the third movement when the final stirring theme is first introduced by the solo flute (Arpi Anderson) surrounded by a halo of high strings was absolutely sublime, and David Elliott played the treacherously exposed French horn melodies with a clear and noble tone.
If some nervous moments marred the excellent first half of the concert a little bit with a few sloppy brass attacks and some not-quite-seamless transitions, the second half raised the level to unquestionably outstanding quality. The orchestra performed the “Four Dances from Estancia” by Alberto Ginastera with an energetic clarity that vivified even the delicate second movement. The fourth dance was fiercely exciting, and the audience responded with a well-deserved, prolonged ovation.
A large chorus comprised of choirs from Asbury University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Lafayette High School (directed, respectively, by Vicki Bell, Richard Waters, and Ryan Marsh) joined the Philharmonic for the finale, the “Suite No. 2” from the ballet “Daphnis et Chloé” by Maurice Ravel. This was the most technically challenging offering of the evening, and the most brilliantly rendered. Ravel’s rapturous music received the ecstatic performance it requires, with effortlessly swirling strings, rich woodwind colors, exciting brass interjections, exotic touches of percussion, and the wordless chanting of the chorus in the climactic moments. Perhaps the sweetest moment of all was not one of the thrilling perorations of the full forces, but the gorgeous alto flute solo, played with other-worldly hues by Heather Verbeck Harrison.
Clearly, the fine musicianship and the combined charisma of the Philharmonic players continues to grow under Terrell’s leadership, and his attractive programming is not the least of his skills. This solid, winsome concert bodes well for the rest of the LPO’s season.
Tedrin Blair Lindsay: firstname.lastname@example.org