Review: MSO concert provides right blend of formal, intimate

Mei-Ann Chen
The Commercial Appeal

By Jon W. Sparks

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra's chamber concerts aim for a pleasing middle ground that's not as informal as an outdoor concert but less highfalutin than a big The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts spread.

The programming has been good, but in recent years the Paul & Linnea Bert Classic Accents series of chamber performances has been looking for a venue that fits its needs.

Friday night the MSO tried out the sanctuary at Lindenwood Christian Church and it may have found a place with the right vibe.

For years, the concerts were at the Rose Theater at St. Mary's Episcopal School, which was fine but too small to meet the demand. Last year, the series moved to the Wiener Theater at the Hutchison School but the acoustics were dreadful.

Lindenwood fixes both those problems and provides a Midtown location to complement the Masterworks concerts held at the Cannon Center Downtown and Germantown Performing Arts Centre.

Maestro Mei-Ann Chen led the orchestra with her usual enthusiasm and control in Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1, two popular works light in spirit but not lightweight. The MSO sounded splendid in the spacious sanctuary with rich, round tones filling the room.

The various sections got to do a little showing off and there was an energy and tightness throughout the orchestra. The MSO's new assistant conductor, Conner Gray Covington, was introduced by Chen and led the orchestra in a similarly upbeat bonus piece not on the program, The Overture to "L'Italiana in Algeri."

Lindenwood has long been a center for musical performance and seems to be a good match for chamber works. The relatively intimate setup also made possible something new that Chen wanted to try out – a five-minute break between pieces where the audience and musicians could mix and chat. It's a nice touch that literally lets the orchestra get closer to the community.