Times Record News
By Claire Kowalick
October 6, 2014
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Opening night for symphony season takes audience on exotic journey

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WICHJA FALLS, Texas - For the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s season opening concert, the audience was transported to exotic lands and across the sea through music.

The show featured three composers: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Claude Debussy and Jean Sibelius, who were from different countries but were equally inspired by the opportunity and wonder of the changing times in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

Like many artists of his time, Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov was intrigued with Spain and other exotic places and was able to bring a taste of these lands to audiences in his homeland.

“Capriccio Espagnol,” Opus 34, is a piece in five parts with an obvious Spanish flair. The Alborada 1 and III are, interestingly, nearly the same music but with different instruments featured. The Variazioni Andante broke up the building excitement with a swirling ease, evoking thoughts of bright blue oceans, green fields and ancient castles on Spanish hillsides.

Parts IV and V, Scena e canto Gitano and Fandango asturiano, are more dramatic. Castanets and billowy French horns bring thoughts of a bullfighter bravely facing danger in the ring.

Although well-performed by the orchestra, Debussy’s “La Mer” was my least favorite piece of the night. Eschewing traditional form, Debussy offers a symphonic sketch in three parts, showing the various personalities of the sea.

While I like more structure to a classical work, it is easy to see why so many future musicians and composers are inspired by the freedom expressed in “La Mer.”

Translated from French, the first part, called “From Dawn to Noon on the Sea,” uses a rolling triplet theme through the cellos, on to the violins, topping off with the woodwinds. One feels the reddish-yellow hue of the breaking dawn bursting forth across the endless waves.

“Play of Waves” was very whimsical, with a peppy piccolo solo, harps, bells and other tinkling, playful sounds.

“Dialogue of the Wind and Sea” was an interesting conversation between bright brass tones representing the wind and deep string instruments the waves, emphasized by booming timpani drum beats.

The final piece, Concerto for Violin in D minor, Opus 47, by Sibelius, is often seen as the ultimate technical challenge for a solo violinist.

Jennifer Koh was stunning in her performance, both with the symphony and through the solo parts. She is dynamic to watch as she moves with the music, showing emotion and a deep love of music.

As a humorous illustration of the extreme difficulty of this piece, after a rigorous solo during the Allegro moderato, part of her bow string frayed off. Undeterred, she removed it, tossed it on the stage and kept on playing.

Adagio di molto was so moving and emotional, many in the audience could not contain themselves and applauded even though the audience is supposed to wait until the very end of the piece.

Allegro ma non tanto is an ideal palette for a solo violinist to pull out all the stops. Koh played flawlessly and with contagious passion for the music.

An unexpectedly sudden end to the relatively short piece left me wanting to hear Koh play on and on, but I think Sibelius’ piece distills the essence of talent and emotion, and Koh’s performance was magical.

As I often feel like younger generations do not have a strong connection to classical music, I was ecstatic to see many young faces in the crowd.

Behind me, a mother was prompting her son, “Now, do you remember the name of the last composer?”

The young boy said, “Um, I think it starts with an ‘S’ ... Sibelius!”

I was nearly teary with pride and delight. Hope is not lost. As long as some are willing to extend a hand, others will follow on that grand adventure.

In increasingly bleak times, it was extraordinary to travel across the seas, have my heart thump with excitement, and travel the world, without having to leave my seat.

Koh’s YouTube channel is www.youtube.com/jenniferkoh violin. “Two x Four” is her most recent album, released in April.

The next WFSO concert will be Nov. 22. It will feature winds and strings with music from, Paul Dukas, Edvard Grieg, Georges Bizet and Howard Hanson. Tickets are available at www.wfso.org.


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