The Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra never missed a beat Sunday afternoon at the Glens Falls High School auditorium, as it seamlessly moved from the national anthem to Debussy’s “Fetes.” That skill reflected much about the level and expertise of the orchestra in its opening concert of the season under music director Charles Peltz.
The Debussy, which is the second movement of his Nocturnes (1892), was fleet, fluid, and had a wide dynamic range and all the right colors. Peltz was precise and had a good feeling about the style. He chose this short opener because the rest of the first half was the presentation of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto with young Benjamin Beilman as soloist.
The three-movement work, which was written for Hilary Hahn, received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and is as thorny a piece as one could wish. Beilman called it “monumental” and even Higdon, who talked briefly about the work, called the violin part “extremely difficult.” Fortunately, Beilman, who won two international competitions last year, was up to the task.
Higdon applied several string effects to his part as well as had him exchange ideas with various instrumentalists, such as some harmonic motifs with the concertmaster or melodic or rhythmic ideas with a trumpet, cello or English horn. After a few scattered harmonics played alone to open the work, Beilman moved into some low, romantically-tinged lines before he showed off how nimble he was getting around the fingerboard. There were glissandos, tremolos as scales, syncopation and an ebb and flow of tempo, rhythmic motifs and flash versus melody. Generally, it was a very stormy movement.
The orchestra was strong and adept and Peltz was highly prepared. Beilman was brilliant in the multi-metered cadenza. The second movement was an elegant song from serene to big and brassy. The final movement was hard-edged, strongly accented with primary colors. Beilman was brilliant in the nonstop piece. The orchestra part was expertly orchestrated.
It ended suddenly, much to the large crowd’s surprise, but they responded with a standing ovation. Beilman gave an encore: the second movement of Prokofiev’s solo violin sonata, which had long singing lines and gossamer webs as filigree.
In a singularly good program choice, the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 with exceptional finesse. It’s hard to believe that this work, which people are so comfortable with now, was considered avant garde more than 200 years ago. Peltz set leisurely tempos and gave strong cues. The orchestra played gracefully with good ensemble and pitch and a robust tone when needed.
Only during the thunderstorm was it a little hesitant getting all the right effects. But the players got back their flair when the sun came out. The next orchestra concert is Nov. 6 with favorite pianist Roberto Plano in a program of Chopin and Stravinsky.
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