Even old chestnuts are fresh in the hands of the BPO and Maestro Novo

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

Listening to orchestra musicians play a work they genuinely love imparts a special freshness, enthusiasm and sense of discovery to those lucky enough to be in the audience.

While Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, the New World Symphony, is programed so often that it runs the risk of sounding hackneyed, Sunday’s performance (Feb. 7) by the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra, part of a concert titled “Dvorak and the New World,” was incredibly fresh and exciting.

Fresh because Dvorak’s melodic gifts, as well as his ability to spin a seemingly infinite number of variations on a tune, result in music unmatched by any other composer’s.  Exciting because the musical prowess of the BPO members is enormous.

Symphony No. 9 is nicknamed New World because Dvorak wrote it during the time he spent in the United States in the 1890s. His experiences in America (including his discovery of African-American and Native American melodies) and his longing for home color his music with mixed emotions. There’s yearning and innocence, sadness, fear, hope and utter joy.

Maestro Jose-Luis Novo introduced the Mozart Symphony No. 25 and Haydn Symphony No. 94 (“The Surprise”), which made up the first half of the concert at The Forum in downtown Binghamton, but said the Dvorak needed no introduction: “It speaks directly to your heart.”

Special mention must be made of English hornist Marilyn Cole, who played the achingly beautiful, hymn-like melody in the Adagio section of the Dvorak. Contrary to what most people think, the melody was not a hymn that Dvorak borrowed. It was written by the composer and only later adapted into the song “Goin’ Home” by Harry Burleigh, a black composer whom Dvorak befriended while in New York.

Although the fine brass and woodwinds took center stage with their noble and majestic performance in the New World, the string section also did itself proud, playing fast passages at warp speed and the soft, slow passages with sensitivity and poignancy.

The Mozart and Haydn symphonies were crisp, clean and delightful.

The Haydn symphony was a substitute for the advertised Concerto for Trumpet by Johann Hummel. Soloist Frank Campos, principal trumpeter with the BPO, was in a car accident and is recuperating after back surgery. According to one orchestra member, the BPO had about a week to prepare the Haydn, but that’s no challenge for an ensemble that always puts together highly polished concerts with very few rehearsals.

Dubbing the concert “Super Symphony Sunday” and nearly going head to head with the Super Bowl on TV, Novo said, “Everyone here today is  a winner; there are no losers.”

A hard act to follow? Not so. On April 16, the BPO will play another much-beloved work, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in collaboration with the Binghamton University Chorus. What better work to give Novo a rousing send-off at his last concert as maestro of the BPO.

 

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