MSO brings Russian music to life

Grade: A-

The Muncie Symphony Orchestra gave another knockout performance Sunday, bringing the music of Russian composers Borodin, Koussevitsky and Stravinsky vibrantly to life.

Principal tuba player Mark Mordue welcomed the audience to the concert, and recognized the high school students performing with the MSO as part of the Side by Side program.

He also honored the members of the Muncie police department, fire department, Delaware County Sheriff's Department and emergency technicians who were in attendance, asking them and their families to stand as they received a roar of applause.

"Thank you for all you do for us," he said.

Conductor Leonard Atherton opened the afternoon leading the MSO in a spirited rendition of the national anthem, drawing voluminous applause from the audience.

MSO Solo Competition Senior Division winner Kassandra Kocoshis continued the concert playing a concerto for marimba and orchestra with the MSO. Kocoshis displayed remarkable technical skill on the marimba and exuded a high sensitivity to the softer dynamics of the piece.

There were some apparent rhythmic tears between Kocoshis, the French horn, and snare drum, but difficulties involved in accompanying a soloist as well as keeping an entire orchestra in synch should be noted.

Borodin's "In the Steppes of Central Asia" began in a minimalistic fashion, with a beautiful clarinet melody played over a violin pedal tone. A French horn solo was executed with brilliant tone, although there were tuning problems with the lowest notes of the fanfare-like arpeggio.

Ball State faculty member Hans Sturm was featured on the next work, Koussevitsky's "Concerto for Bass, Op. 3." The piece called for a great deal of upper-register notes on the bass, which can be a physical burden due to the sheer size of the instrument. Sturm deftly overcame many of these obstacles, enriching each melody of the solo with a musical sense of vibrato and careful attention to the dynamic requirements of the piece.

The Koussevitsky concerto was the most "Russian-sounding" of the three works, with its predominant use of minor keys and furious brass hits. Between two of the movements, the audience mistook the pause for the piece's conclusion and began applauding, which appeared to disrupt the flow of the performance a bit.

Stravinsky's sprawling Firebird Suite was the highlight of the afternoon, with its ominous low string parts erupting into a flurry of wind melodies and violins. The multi-segmented work explored many different emotions and instrumentations, and the MSO pulled it off without a hitch.

At the end of the concert, Atherton and the orchestra were treated to a standing ovation, a just reward for the fine performance they gave.


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