RPO performs Brahms and a Higdon world premiere

Ward Stare
Rochester City Newspaper

The world premiere of American composer Jennifer Higdon's Harp Concerto, performed by soloist Yolanda Kondonassis, had already made last night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert one of the more anticipated events of the season. The RPO's performance, capably led by Music Director Ward Stare, more than fulfilled the promise of the program.

There are few compositions as ingenious and evocative as Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes." Britten is a composer who demands a challenging blend of exactitude and lyricism of the musicians who interpret his work. The result is often music that is equally majestic and unsettling. From the haunting opening melody in the violins and the woodwinds' foreboding, arpeggiated response onward, the powerful articulation and heartfelt phrasing gives the music added poignancy.

Stare's leadership was clear and precise, and the orchestra responded in kind. By the fourth interlude, entitled "Storm: Presto con fuoco," the strings stung, and the brass section sounded a kind of ominous war cry. The savage cruelty evidenced in the opera "Peter Grimes" felt embedded in the notes, as the piece ended in a menacingly seductive atmosphere.


The concert concluded with Johannes Brahms's inexhaustible Symphony No. 2. Brahms excelled at imbuing the orchestra with a warm, almost choral sound, replete with a rich harmonic vocabulary. His second symphony is no different.

Stare gave an especially charismatic and tenacious performance here, and the flow of the ensemble felt effortless. The music had an undeniable jubilance, and no one seemed to be enjoying it more.than Stare, who moved about the podium in an indefatigable series of hops. The fortitude and stamina exhibited by the RPO in the concert's finale was nothing short of impressive.

As a whole, this was a polished and powerful showing by Stare and his coterie of musicians. If anything, the performance further demonstrated that the RPO should be interpreting even more works from the 20th century and beyond.
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