Review: Boise Philharmonic opens season with drama, romance

Anne-Marie McDermott
The Idaho Statesman

By Dana Oland

Anne-Marie McDermott owned the Beethoven First Piano Concerto at Saturday's concert that opened the Boise Philharmonic's season, "Expect the Unexpected: Romantic Journey," at the Morrison Center.

McDermott dazzled the audience of about 1,300 with her dexterity as her fingers rippled over the keys. Her approach was fresh, vibrant and in the moment as she wielded a technique that allowed her to relax, enjoy and sparkle.

Her mastery of the piece allowed her to give a deeply moving performance, from her facial expressions - both to the audience and to the orchestra - to her graceful gestures. She played in whispers and thunderstorms and drew the audience into her exploration of the work. It was a joy to watch her interplay with music director Robert Franz and the other musicians.

The evening began with baroque - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. Franz programmed three pieces that built upon one another - Bach, then Beethoven into Schumann's Second Symphony, which incorporates influences from the first two composers.

The Brandenburg made an interesting start to the season. It's a piece that is not usually played in a hall as large as the Morrison.

Franz kept the pace brisk, and the musicians played with a crisp edge. It featured solos from new associate concertmaster Chia-Li Ho, who made her debut with the orchestra. She is filling in for concertmaster Geoffrey Trabichoff, who is taking some time off. He will be back for the Oct. 17-18 concerts.

The Brandenburg featured highlights for oboe, delightfully played by Peter Stempe, Nicole Golay and Lindsay Edward, and horns by the excellent Philip Kassel and Brian Vance.

The Schumann finale was a wonderful capper to the evening, filled with rich textures, counterpoint and harmonics that define the Romantic work.

Franz and company balanced the tension between the light and dark emotions of the piece, written at a time when Schumann was battling mental illness.

Franz made the most of the third movement's rich melodies and expressive qualities - reaching deep and nearly dancing on the podium.

The philharmonic played with a confidence and profound intention that felt different from past seasons. The organization is growing under Franz's leadership, and this season promises to again take them to another level.