It was a great fall evening for the ARTISTRY concert on September 20th. You often hear of a “Grand finale”, but this was a “Grand season opener!”
Concert season opener is dedicated to Forrest Clark Johnson, III
Forrest Clark Johnson, III was an integral member of our community and is greatly missed. Clark passed away on March 22, 2022. He was born January 1st, 1950 and was a ninth generation resident of Troup County and a fourteenth generation Georgian. His contributions to our area are vast.
Clark was a long-standing member of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra board of directors and his input was greatly valued. He served as an active board member from 1998—2001 and again from 2005—2015, at which time he became a Dr. Werner A. Linz emeritus board member. He continued in that role until he died.
In addition to the service to our organization, Clark and his wife, Deborah, have supported the LSO for numerous years through being the ‘First Chair Sponsor’ of the piano seat in the orchestra. We are grateful that Deborah continues this sponsorship today.
Clark was an accomplished pianist. We remember him with heartfelt fondness especially at tonight’s concert because it includes the wonderful Grieg Piano Concerto. Showcasing the impressive talent of guest artist, pianist Vijay Venkatesh seemed a fitting tribute to Clark’s memory. Words cannot express our appreciation and thankfulness for Forrest Clark Johnson’s service, support, and friendship to all of us at the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra these many years. We dedicate tonight’s concert to him.
The evening began with a greeting from the LSO president, Janet Johnson. She welcomed everyone and opened the new 2022/2023 concert season. She announced the dedication of this first concert to the memory of Emeritus board member Clark Johnson and recognized the large number of his family members that were present for this concert.
The Star-Spangled Banner
Music Director and Conductor Richard Prior led the LSO in opening the season with a rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. The audience was immediately on their feet and proudly sang along.
After our national anthem, the official concert program began with Sibelius: Finlandia Op 26. Sibelius is a Finnish composer (1865-1957). While Finlandia is not the national anthem for Finland, it is the most widely recognized patriotic melody of that land.
The opening theme of this piece is ominous and echoes through various sections of the orchestra. The LSO easily filled the auditorium with great swells like crashing waves. From this drama, the music turned to a celebratory mood. Then again changing gears, the main theme begins. This hymn-like theme was immediately familiar. No wonder this is considered an honorable and patriotic song in Finland! It was “Be Still My Soul”, a hymn often used and beloved here in the United States and in other countries. The LSO portrayed this powerful but gentle theme in a glorious way.
A Fitting Addition
Maestro Richard Prior introduced the next piece, which was a surprise addition, and explained that in recognition of the extraordinary life of Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022) the LSO has added Elgar’s Nimrod from his Enigma Variations. This was a wonderful tribute of beautiful music. It was majestic and moving. Elgar’s Nimrod was heard before Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation service in 1953. It was also played for her committal at St. George’s Chapel September 19th, 2022. This was a lovely expression of high regard for an exceptional world leader.
Grieg: Piano Concerto
With much anticipation from the audience, the Grieg Piano Concerto was next, featuring guest artist, Vijay Venkatesh. Welcomed with intense applause, Mr. Venkatesh took the stage. This piano concerto’s first movement began with dramatic flair. The performance was everything you would expect – and then some. Experiencing a live performance is so much more than listening to a recording. The LSO was brilliantly balanced with the piano, and every note of the piano was eloquent, lyrical, and clear.
Because the first movement ends so dramatically and with finality, the audience was caught up in appreciation. Taking it all in stride with a smile, Mr. Venkatesh continued into the second movement with its stunning waterfall passages. This section is beautifully fluid and just melts into the air.
In contrast to the second movement, the third begins with high energy. Mr. Venkatesh’s piano virtuosity was astounding, and demonstrated that this piano is a magnificent instrument. The LSO had wonderful control throughout with nuanced blending and dynamics. It was notable how clear the flute solo came through. The entire performance was elegant and grand.
Now the audience really showed their appreciation with a lasting standing ovation. Mr. Venkatesh generously came back for an encore! Could this night get any better? With wonderful expression, he played Schubert’s Serenade which was emotive, and sentimental. Mr. Venkatesh’s encore was a lovely gesture, and the delighted audience gave another round of thunderous applause.
Brahms: Symphony No. 1
After a brief intermission and stage change, Johannes Brahms’ first symphony was at hand. Taking more than ten years to write, this four-movement piece had it all. Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 is an enriching experience. The composition is impressive and engaging. Brahms masterfully developed variations on his themes throughout this symphony. Consisting of four movements, it is beautifully written, interesting, and a joy to appreciate live and in-person.
The unification of the LSO was commendable – sixty pieces all paying attention to the direction of the maestro and listening to one another. The saying that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” rings true. Not only did the orchestration blend let the audience be immersed in the music, but the dynamic interpretation also allowed the soloists to shine! Great performance!
Here are a few more memories from the evening.
Coming Up Next
Mark your calendars for the November 1st LaGrange Symphony Orchestra “COMMUNITY” concert with guest artist Kerren Berz, violin. This concert celebrates the second guiding principle of the LSO, which is community. Be sure to check out that concert’s line-up on the LSO season page HERE.
Thank you for supporting the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra. We look forward to seeing you on November 1st.
All photos: © LaGrange Symphony Orchestra 2022