Rewarding Musical Choices: HT Review of History, Herstory


Bloomington Symphony Orchestra wraps up its season in splendid form

  • By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |

A moving salute to a colleague, a gifted young violist, a knowing concertmaster doing some beautiful work, a conductor who cares and gets to the heart of the music, an orchestra playing with assurance and joy, and a program of rewarding musical choices, one of which required the assistance of a local favorite with a familiar and resonant voice:

Those were the benefits that fans of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra received for attending the ensemble’s season-closing concert in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Sunday evening. That’s far more than one sometimes receives and far more than one can always hope for, but so it was for spending time with this community institution, definitely enjoying current artistic prosperity.

The concert’s opening contained sadness, the mourning for and celebration of Steve Main, a long-time and beloved cellist in the orchestra who died recently. His passing brought shared memories flashed on the screen above the Buskirk-Chumley’s stage, a white rose in a seat he would have occupied and an impassioned performance of a brief but noble composition by Jean Sibelius, “Varsang” (“Spring Song”), which evoked a sense of recognition that there remain the wonders of the human spirit and the glories of Earth’s nature to boost us up. The orchestra’s artistic director and conductor, Alejandro Gomez Guillen, directed with noticeable passion, and his musicians responded in kind, inspired by their leader and, of course, thoughts of their departed friend.

Young Gomez Guillen appeared to be swept up by the whole occasion: a concert ending his first season with the orchestra, the music he had chosen, the salute to cellist Main and the presence of his mother on Mother’s Day. She had flown from their native Colombia for the occasion and the holiday. Flowers and words of love became part of the evening.

The conductor introduced, with a filmed interview, the guest soloist, Maeve Whelan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Bloomington High School North and student of Mimi Zweig in the Indiana University String Academy who won this year’s BSO Youth Concerto Competition. A financial reward and a performance with the orchestra come with that victory. Whelan was cheerful during the interview and fully prepared for her opportunity with the orchestra.

Her contribution was the Allegro movement from the Concerto in D Major for Viola and Orchestra by Karl Stamitz, a Mozart contemporary. The music was delightful and difficult. Her handling of it was impressive, requiring the viola soloist to produce beauty of tone and meet a series of high competence tests which, decidedly, she did. Her manner on stage is thoroughly professional. Her playing is a vote for the viola as an instrument of consequence and gorgeous tonal quality. The young lady has real talent.

A talent in public address joined the orchestra for a performance of Aaron Copland’s poetic tribute to our 16th president, “Lincoln Portrait.” WFIU’s veteran announcer and theater/opera critic George Walker narrated the spoken part, based on Lincoln’s speeches. The eloquent Mr. Walker did the content justice, stressing the drama of Lincoln’s words instead of his own warm and calming radio voice. Copland’s music fits the consequence of the subject. It, too, becomes highly dramatic, and the Gomez Guillen-led orchestra gave it a feel of import and spaciousness. The playing was admirable. Ensemble and conductor were in the zone together.

The concert ended with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” a four-movement tone poem of considerable length and colors meant to represent an exotic East, tales from the Arabian Nights and Scheherazade, the teller of those tales. The first violinist, the concertmaster, gets the assignment to do the telling in exquisite music, here performed by Kit Boulding, the BSO’s lady in the first chair. She’s a superb violinist and handled her duties radiantly. The orchestra was in excellent form, too, having worked a year now with a conductor who considers ensemble of tremendous importance and has both the talent and the desire to draw that out of his aggregation of loyal players. It showed.

In sum: a splendid evening.