Bravo! Yes! Wow!
This season finale concert of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra (LSO) will be remembered, there’s no doubt about that. The programming, the delivery, the reaction with two standing ovations – all were fantastic.
The evening weather was perfect. The temperature and humidity was just right to make it a great night to be out.
The lead-up to every concert takes months with a great deal that goes on behind-the-scenes. On top of the usual preparations, one obvious addition this night was the presence of an organ where there has never been an organ before! There it was – pipes and all. The scale was imposing and lived up to its obvious purpose – to be impressive even with 64 people on stage. Was it really electronic like the blog posts said? Everyone wanted to get a closer look. The audience was buzzing with curiosity and anticipation. (More on this below.)
Here also are some shots of a few lovely people as they arrived. Their smiles are heartwarming and indicative of the wonderful evening to follow.
LaGrange Symphony Orchestra president, Janet Johnson welcomed everyone. She recognized sponsors and notable people in the audience. One of those acknowledged was Professor Sergiu Schwartz of the Joyce and Henry Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University. He is the current teacher of Sicong Chen (William) the first guest artist of the evening.
Ms. Johnson continued with words about the concert season and the importance of the LSO guiding principles. SUSTAINABILITY was the LSO principle being celebrated at this final concert of the season. One way to insure the future of the symphony is cultivating young artists such as William Chen, the 2023 Young Artists Competition (YAC) winner.
You can read more about both guest artists William Chen and Don Papenbrock on this blog post HERE.
The concert opened with an audience favorite. Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps (of a Morning in Spring). If you recall, this piece was part of the LSO’s distinguished Women in Music concert 10/2018 for which it got rave reviews.
Ms. Boulanger lived a short life but it must have been a fulfilling one as she completed a number of great compositions. Her talent and her optimism were forefront in this piece. What could be more optimistic than the two things in the title – morning and spring?
Putting this piece first on the program was brilliant. Audibly, it was awakening. The musicians really cast the spell as the emergence of ideas were developed. The conversation between instruments stands out like the first violin and second violin as they share a common idea with the oboe and flute. This sounded like springtime when things begin to bloom and birds begin to arrive. D’un matin de printemps is not a lengthy piece, but it is wonderfully full of articulations that were totally commanded by the LSO. Beautiful.
Next on the program was a performance by the 2023 Young Artist Competition (YAC) winner violinist, Sicong Chen (William). The YAC is an LSO organized event to encourage professional standards of performance among young musicians. This year was a “strings” competition. The YAC rotates between piano, winds, and strings, so the 2024 competition will be for piano. This is one of the many ways in which the LSO works to preserve its high standards and uphold its principle of SUSTAINABILITY.
William’s teacher, friends, and fellow students were in the audience to support him. They also knew the music, and would be aware of every nuance of the piece. This meant the audience had extra keen ears. William and the LSO performed Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D, op. 35 with flair. The performance was ideal. For someone as youthful as William, he played with maturity and confidence. This was a performance for which to be proud. The enthusiastic approval by his friends spoke volumes. His teacher was all smiles (photos below). The delivery was crisp, precise, and was performed with feeling. The combination of solo violin and full orchestra was excellently paired. Well done!
Erich Korngold, the composer, dedicated this piece to the widow of his friend, fellow composer, and mentor Gustav Mahler. Upon its premiere, he received many accolades. It is said to combine vitality and superb craftsmanship. This piece was meant to impress, and it did. The interpretation by William Chen and the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra was splendid. The audience was quick to their feet in appreciation with a standing ovation for these fine musicians.
A few words:
It was at this time that Maestro Richard Prior spoke a few words. He recognized Jay Hanselman, principal horn and long-time member of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra. Richard explained that this was to be Jay’s last concert as he was retiring from the LSO. The audience gave him a grateful round of applause, which he stood and acknowledged.
Maestro Prior now talked about the organ and how tonight’s guest artist, Don Papenbrock, built what we were seeing. He mentioned that all of the components had been combined, tested and constructed over the last several months while the actual set-up for tonight’s performance was put together over several days. Don, who was already seated at the organ, turned and acknowledged his words. Mr. Papenbrock has a long list of credits to his name in the music realm, along with the technological prowess for building such a beautiful instrument. Everyone applauded his efforts and were ready to hear Saint-Saëns’ Symphony no. 3 in c minor, op. 78, “Organ”.
Just as some of the biggest and best known pipe organs of the world, this instrument on the stage of Callaway Auditorium had it all. There were three keyboards for the hands, one for the feet, a multitude of electronic stops, with generals and divisional buttons. A regular pipe organ is a very large, complex, and technical thing. It has endless possibilities and creates a sound that is unique. For this electronic version to be able to mimic that so realistically is a bit mind-blowing.
The “Organ” symphony begins very quietly and calmly with the string sections and long gentle bows. It transforms into a tiptoeing sequence that fills out into a large fanfare swell. The LSO fully owned Saint-Saëns’ beautiful developing themes. The overwhelming feeling was of comfort – the kind that feels peaceful and soothes the soul. Slowly the mood of the symphony became more direct and urgent. But through most of the piece, the organ has a very minor role. However, that changed.
The organ in this symphony makes its grand entrance toward the end of the piece with thunderous bass notes and an awe inspiring sound. The sound was full and the theme was large – and familiar! Not surprisingly, it was another great classical theme that was used by Disney. This time it was for their movie “Babe”.
During this symphony you heard the beautiful music and also felt the power behind the organ. Different organs have their own unique sound and many are famous for it. In a previous blog post some of those rare organs were mentioned. At this concert, the sample-set performed was from a church in Billerbeck, Germany – a large 4-manual instrument with 72 speaking stops. It is designed in the French symphonic tradition, which was an appropriate choice for Saint-Saëns. If you would like to learn more about this organ in St. Ludger catherdral, check out this link.
Overall, the performance was impressive. It was extravagant, technically sophisticated and a grand way to end the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra’s 2022/23 season.
There was a slight pause once the last note was played as the audience soaked in the last reverberation. Then they were immediately on their feet with another standing ovation, the audience showed their appreciation for the LSO musicians, Maestro Prior, and guest artist, Don Papenbrock. (see photos below)
Two standing ovations in one night. This surely ended the season on a high note – or rather a full chord with all the stops pulled out!