Four Soloists, Three Ovations Mark Indian Hill Orchestra Season Finale

By McLaren Harris

No fewer than four soloists graced Saturday’s (April 25) season finale by the Orchestra of Indian Hill under conductor Bruce Hangen. Three were from among Indian Hill’s own – violinist Alice Hallstrom and cellist Aristides Rivas of the orchestra and pianist Jenny Tang of the Indian Hill Music School faculty – along with 17-year-old cellist Alex Hill, winner of the school’s annual student concerto competition. To say that they performed well in the program comprising works of Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak would be a gross understatement.

While Dvorak’s much-admired and lyric Symphony No. 8 in G represented the program’s “big work,” for my money the undeniable highlight was Beethoven’s C major “Triple” Concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra. Composed while Beethoven was putting the final touches on his monumental “Eroica” Symphony, the smaller-scale concerto nods to the concerto grosso tradition of the Baroque era but reveals Beethoven still at the height of his musical genius. The beauty of the first movement’s themes and their strong development, the to-die-for romantic tenderness of the Largo’s theme, the light, dancing energy of the Rondo alla polacca and Beethoven’s masterful instrumental writing all make this work well worth hearing again and again.

That is, when one can assemble the talents and artistry of Saturday’s soloists and orchestra. Aristides Rivas’s opulent timbres in the cello’s singing registers and throughout its range were matched by Alice Hallstroms nimble fingers and bowing and her soaring rendition of the Largo’s theme. Jenny Tang was both soloist and mediator between the others and the orchestra, taking the lead, partnering, delicately crafting phrases and transitions. Her dynamics were finely attuned and her keyboard work was flawless. Bruce Hangen kept in close communication with all – not an easy task because the cellist was all but hidden from him by the piano lid – and the orchestra filled out the almost symphonic context of the work.

Small wonder that the soloists were recalled to the stage three times during the standing ovation.

Concerto competition winner Alex Hill was featured in the first movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C. The work explores all registers of the instrument, often concentrating on daunting high positions and agile finger-work on the middle strings. The cellist was in command of them all, however, and negotiated rapid register changes with ease. He also received a standing ovation.

Dvorak’s symphonies are not shy about wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and the evening’s “big work,” his Eighth Symphony in G major, was a most appropriate piece for the season, opening amid some winter gloom but pulled irrevocably toward the sunlight throughout the first movement. Some brooding in the Adagio is followed by a light-hearted Allegretto with a most felicitous mid-section, after which the brass fanfare opening the final Allegro seems to announce the arrival of summer and rejoicing.

The opportunities for outstanding instrumental work were almost endless – the full-throated opening theme in the lower strings, the “bird calls” in the first and intricate flute solos in the finale (Melissa Mielens was brilliant as usual), the unfailing energy in the upper strings, the strong unison passages by the horns and Clark Matthews’s fine solo work, Alice Hallstrom’s tender violin phrases, the strength of the brass to conclude the work. Bruce Hangen deserves an ovation to himself for shaping, building, encouraging, even imploring his musicians to achieve their collective success.

Ovation? Need I add that the Dvorak brought the third standing ovation of the evening? How often do you see that?

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