Review: Schenectady Symphony off to rousing start under new artistic director

Concert showed off high energy, a taut ensemble and a projected passion
Glen Cortese conducts the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at Proctors.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Glen Cortese conducts the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at Proctors.

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

There’s new juice to the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra. Sunday’s concert at Proctors showed off a high energy, a taut ensemble and a projected passion that impressed a sizeable crowd to offer standing ovations and loud cheers.

Some of that may be because of the orchestra’s new artistic director, Glen Cortese. With strong credentials and a conducting style that emphasized an economy of beat, strong cues and a forceful presence, he whipped through three very different works which the orchestra intensely responded to.

They began with Leonard Bernstein’s Three Variations from “Fancy Free,” a ballet he and Jerome Robbins developed. The first was jaunty, hard-edged and wonderfully raucous with taut brass. The second was jazzy, mellow, multi-metered and very tricky rhythmically. The third was a Latin swing with lots of color. The orchestra was alert to all the sudden changes and unexpected diversions — something common in Bernstein’s music. It was a good job.

Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” with cellist Natasha Farny, an international soloist who currently teaches at SUNY Fredonia, used none of the brass, which gave a transparent quality to the overall sound. Cortese did well to support Farny, who as the soloist was the dominant voice throughout. 

Farny was dressed in a dark rose or red satin gown and played with a mellow tone and arched the beautifully lyrical melodies prettily. Some of her attacks were rough and occasional pitches in the early variations were a bit off. But her final two variations were very well done. There was some magic in the slower seventh and the final variation with the long double stop passages were done accurately at top speed — something not all cellists manage. The crowd loved it and gave her a standing ovation and several curtain calls.

Tackling Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor was a much bigger deal. Even if the orchestra had played the four movement work in past seasons, it’s always new under a different conductor. But change is afoot these days and the players dug in with passion.

They got off to a great start immediately with the strings’ gentle lilt of an upbeat. The orchestra sounded robust and there was good ensemble throughout. Cortese’s tempos were solid and he conducted with much energy often stamping a foot for emphasis. The audience liked the effort and gave applause. The woodwinds did especially well in the opening Andante followed by the strings’ rich sound. The third opened with an electric level of volume and raced along. Some of the tutti string sections, which are thick with secondary melodies and rhythms, needed some fine tuning as they did in the fourth movement, which had its own share of complicated orchestration.

It all ended grandly and the audience broke into a sustained applause, some standing.

The next SSO concert is March 22 with works by Copland, Cortese and Dvorak.

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