Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Heroism – that was the recurring theme of Saturday night’s season-opening concert of the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra at The Forum in Binghamton under the baton of principal guest conductor Daniel Hege.
From the overture to William Tell by Rossini (about a folk hero) to Max Bruch’s passionate and romantic Concerto for Violin No. 1, Op. 26, in G Minor to a stellar performance of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, the program spotlighted the orchestra’s top-notch talent and heroic stamina.
By the end of the 45-minute long symphony, the glorious conclusion lifted us from our seats for a standing ovation.
Hege, who will conduct the BPO throughout the 2016-17 season, did an admirable job of filling the big shoes left vacant by Maestro Jose-Luis Novo. He’s personable, affable and speaks to the audience with wit and humor. If Saturday’s concert (Oct. 1) is an example, he chooses works that are real crowd-pleasers.
Hege, who conducted the now-defunct Syracuse Symphony and still leads the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, introduced a couple of new features at the concert. The BPO played a spirited national anthem at the outset. The audience stood and sang along. “Now you can tell folks that your voice is a bit strained because you sang with the Binghamton Philharmonic,” Hege quipped.
Later, Hege and his violin soloist, up-and-coming star Angelo Xiang Yu, offered a “talk-back” in the lobby for anyone who wanted to stay after the concert.
As always, Ubaldo Valli (first violinist) gave an informative pre-concert lecture geared both to seasoned music lovers and novices to the repertoire. Don’t miss this “extra” at future concerts.
Yu hails from Inner Mongolia and was the youngest prize-winner at the 2006 Wieniawski International Violin Competition. He is fabulous. Playing a Stradivarius instrument valued at $4 million, he becomes one with the violin. His tone is exquisite; his technique is superhuman.
Too often, a violin soloist is the center of attention, with the orchestra as backdrop. This wasn’t so with Yu. He had a real conversation with the orchestra, leaning in and acknowledging the interchanges with various instruments and sections.
And he wore his emotions on his sleeve, or rather on his face, smiling throughout the work.
The “William Tell Overture” held a few surprises. We all know the “Lone Ranger” theme song ubiquitous in cartoons and TV commercials. But the overture also contains passages we rarely hear –- the introduction played gorgeously by the BPO’s celli and bass section, the riotous storm section and the lyrical duet between English hornist John Lathwell and flautist Karen Bogardus.
When the orchestra finally got to the familiar bit, a titter moved audibly through the audience. No one shouted “Hi Ho, Silver,” but those of us “of a certain age” all thought it! It was just plain fun to hear the whole overture and hats off to Hege for programming it.
One quibble: The program doesn’t include a list of orchestra members for each concert – only the season regulars. Substitute musicians are not acknowledged and should be, especially the superb fill-in cellists at this concert.
For its next act, the BPO offers “Our Town,” a Nov. 12 concert, featuring Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue played by former BPO conductor John Covelli. The 2016-17 season also includes a roster of fine chamber concerts. Check it out at binghamtonphilharmonic.org.