The award-winning Knox-Galesburg Symphony (KGS) opened its 59th season on Saturday with a concert at the Orpheum Theatre. Featured were 14-year-old cello player Ben Solomonow and a piece for orchestra composed by Russian composer Alexander Borodin.
The concert opened with the presentation of an American flag from a member of the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan, given as a message of appreciation to the orchestra.
After playing the national anthem, the orchestra opened with the world premiere of a piece called “Streamliner” by Daniel Godsil, a Knox piano instructor, which won the KGS International Call for Scores. The short piece evoked the sounds of a train ride, including the rhythmic chugging of the strings section and the triumphant blares of the horn from the winds.
The next portion of the concert was a compilation of variations on a theme by Italian composer Niccolo Paganini, featuring solo cello and strings. The fifteen short variations on the theme displayed a wide range of Solomonow’s impressive technical skills, such as in the variation by Morini that had the cellist playing at different ends of the fingerboard on nearly every note.
Some of the variations were fast and jaw dropping to watch, such as the one by Elman that elicited a chuckle of astonishment from the audience. Others were slow and more melodic, with the orchestra echoing Solomonow’s phrasing.
After the fifteen variations, which displayed all of Solomonow’s technical talent, he played a piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff titled “Vocalise,” which demonstrated his talent for playing more graceful pieces as well. This piece displayed an ability to play longer, more sustained notes as beautifully as he could play the shorter, faster ones.
Thunderous applause followed, along with an encore performance of a solo piece for cello by J.S. Bach.
Many audience members were astonished by Solomonow’s playing. “He had amazing musical talent,” said freshman Eli Mulhausen.
After the intermission, the woodwind section joined the strings on stage to perform Borodin’s “Symphony No. 1 in E-flat,” a piece which conductor Bruce Polay, professor and chair of Music at Knox, said he had always wanted the orchestra to perform. It finished with an allegro molto vivo movement that was quite catchy—many audience members could be heard humming the piece in the lobby afterwards. “It’s just a great piece, done by a young composer who was also a brilliant chemist who only composed on the weekends. It’s just a brilliant work,” Polay said.
Polay said that he liked working with Solomonow, whom he selected to play with KGS from the Midwest Young Artists Senior Symphony Orchestra. “Each year I pick a high schooler [in the MYA Orchestra] to come and play with the symphony, and I always make sure to try to pick someone who I think will work well with the orchestra.”
Polay says that he is excited about the upcoming concerts that KGS will be giving this year, and that the orchestra is “salivating” with excitement to play Shostakovich’s 10th and Brookner’s 4th Symphony later this year. Polay says that they try to play pieces of rich literature that people have never heard before, with a penchant for choosing pieces that are “lesser known works of great composers, or great works of lesser-known composers.”