Charlottesville Symphony – A triumph and a crowd-pleaser

Damon Gupton

The Charlottesville Symphony brought the audience to its feet twice Saturday evening. The first time was for an artistic triumph, the second time was for a crowd-pleaser.

The orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Damon Gupton, opened the program with Rossini’s Overture to “Semiramide.” At first, I was a little concerned.  The overture starts softly, and gradually builds in volume. The ensemble came in at mezzo-forte, which didn’t give them much room to increase volume. Things soon righted themselves, though.

The horn quartet delivered full-bodied, balanced sound. And the strings, as always, played the pizzicato passages with laser-focused precision. It’s quite impressive when you remember that the ensemble is a blend of professional, student, and ameature musicians.

Daniel Sender

Concert master Daniel Sender took center stage for the Barber Violin Concerto. It was an artistic triumph. Sender’s playing was wonderfully expressive. It highlighted the emotive possibilities of Barber’s deceptively simple melodies.

And Sender’s technique was impeccable. The pristine tone of his playing was constant even into the extremes of the violin’s upper register.

The concerto also had impressive performances from the ensemble. The middle movement’s melody is first presented in an extended oboe solo. In the program notes Sender said oboist Kelly Perel played with an “incredibly lyrical, sweet sound.” That’s what I heard Saturday night.

Also worth noting was the wonderfully tight blend of the strings. Lines would ripple through the sections, seamlessly transferring from violin to violas to cellos as if played on a single instrument.

The orchestra’s performance final movement was wonderful. The energy never flagged, the tempo never slowed, and the shifting rhythms were taken in stride. When it was over, the audience not only gave a standing ovation but called Sender and Gupton back twice. They (and the orchestra) obliged with an encore — Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise.

The second half of the concert was the crowd-pleaser — Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Gupton kept things moving, especially in the last two movements. It was a good performance, and one the audience responded to. As the last notes of the finale faded away, the audience once again stood and applauded.

Damon Gupton’s conducting was subtle and efficient. His gestures were economical, but always crystal clear. He and the ensemble seemed to work well together, and that chemistry made the performances stronger, I think.

That’s not to say it was a perfect evening. Sometimes when the violins bowed repeated notes, the attacks would drift out of synch. During the concerto, there were places where the orchestra overpowered the soloist (this also happened at the last concert).

There were some bobbled horn notes during the symphony, possibly due to fatigue. To be fair, the horns had been playing long and hard all evening. Fatigue may also account for the string playing in the symphony’s final movement. The string sound pulled apart slightly at the beginning. But it eventually came together. Everyone seemed to get a second wind and were able to finish the symphony (and the concert) strong.

Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia
Benjamin Rous, Music Director
Damon Gupton, guest conductor
Daniel Sender, violin
November 17-18, 2018

Gioacchino Rossini – Overture to “Semiramide”
Samuel Barber – Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

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