Sunday's Symphony Syracuse concert delivered two things: music and a message. This organization—meant to serve as a lifeboat to symphonic music after the declared bankruptcy of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra—made a case for themselves through several impassioned speeches, but more convincingly, by playing beautifully together.
At 2:30 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, a percussionist stepped forward to announce a delay due to a ticket line stretching out the door of the Crouse Hinds Concert Theater. Fifteen minutes later, Jon Garland—a horn player—began the concert with salutations that included the musicians’ concern that they were not included in the planning of the Syracuse Philharmonic. Garland stated that the 50-year-old organization is still here and still committed to keeping symphonic music alive, a sentiment that brought loud applause each time it was made throughout the afternoon.
And finally, the music! Stewart Robertson, music director emeritus of Glimmerglass Opera, took the conductor’s podium without preamble. Robertson led the symphony in Shostakovich’s "Festive Overture" in A major, Op. 96. The brass fanfare that opens this boisterous, triumphant piece pierced the air, quickly joined by the rest of the symphony with eager, beautifully sculpted phrases. The balance and rich sonorities clearly displayed the unity these musicians have been honing for decades. This overture was a great opener, evident by the whooping response from the audience.
Symphony Syracuse was joined by acclaimed violinist Elmar Oliveira for Saint-Saëns’s "Concerto No. 3" in B minor, op. 61. This romantic piece was striking in force, and though Oliveira’s pitch wasn’t always precise, his skill was clear. With a furrowed brow and bow strokes that sliced cleanly through the air like a knife, Oliveira’s technical skill outshone his lyricism, particularly in the second movement. The accompanying strings bridged virtuosic portions with soft, sensitive chordal swells; suddenly they were playing, though their entrance was almost unnoticed.
Oliveira maintained his stern expression as he took the microphone during a second curtain call and discussed the uncertain future of the musicians on stage. He urged the audience to impress upon the community its need for these musicians, inspiring several rounds of applause. He then took his instrument and played an unnamed encore, exhibiting his lyric ability more fully with sweet double-stopped thirds and sixths.
After a brief intermission, Robertson delivered the historical context of Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 7" in A major, op. 92. Beethoven introduced the seventh symphony to Vienna in a time of economic turmoil, but the piece was still a huge success, so much so that the second movement had to be repeated in an encore. Robertson echoed Oliveira’s hope that audience members would persuade community not in attendance to support the orchestra, and that the seventh symphony could act as a metaphor for success in hard times.
While the first, third, and fourth movements were played well (but not without some tattered edges to phrases), the second movement maintained its reputation as the most exciting portion of the symphony, despite its measured tempo, repetition, and somber mood. Robertson took a slightly quicker tempo than most, adding freshness to the mesmerizing tune that’s familiar to the masses as the soundtrack to “The King’s Speech.” I, for one, would have liked to hear it a second time.
All in all, Symphony Syracuse played well-selected music with excitement and desire. The audience received them loyally, though their insistence on eight bows (five additional curtain calls) throughout the concert was not gracious, but absurd.
Symphony Syracuse travels to Ithaca College on Monday, Oct. 10 to present this program in Ford Hall. Future plans for the organization include participation in Syracuse Opera’s pit orchestra and a mid-November concert that will include Weber’s "Euryanthe Overture", Mozart’s Horn "Concerto No. 3" performed by Julia Pilant, and Berlioz’s "Symphonie Fantastique".